From the numbers taken at the several annual conferences, and published in Cincinnati, it was ascertained that there was a diminution in the aggregate number of Church members for this year, notwithstanding the zeal which had been displayed in some sections of the Church to purify it from the defilements of slavery. The disclosure of this fact, an event so unusual in our history, led to a serious inquiry into its causes, and various conjectures were put afloat, some of them chimerical enough, to account for it. Without attempting to decide dogmatically upon a question admitting of such a wide range of discussion, and which, after all, is not of so easy solution as some may imagine, the following are submitted as the most likely causes to tend to such a result.
1. The unusual excitement which had pervaded the country for a few past years, seemed to be followed by a sifting of the Church of many who, under that excitement, might have started in the Christian race without duly |counting the cost,| and therefore in the |time of temptation fell away.|
2. The revival of evangelical religion among other denominations might have contributed its full quota in lessening the number of accessions to our communion. Time was, in many places, when souls were truly awakened to a sense of their lost estate, that they came to our ministry as a matter of course, in order to get spiritual food suited to their wants, other denominations not insisting as they ought upon the evangelical doctrines of the Bible, such as the new birth, justification by faith, the witness and fruits of the Spirit. Now the times were greatly altered for the better in this respect. During the progress of the great revivals in our country, nearly all denominations were partakers |of the benefit,| entered heartily into the work, and their ministers enforced upon the people the great truths of God our Saviour with powerful effect. The consequence was, many who otherwise would probably have come among us, connected themselves with other denominations.3. In the western country especially, where the decrease was greatest, by neglecting to furnish convenient places of worship in the more populous villages, others came in and took possession of them, and thus drew the population around them before we were aware of it, and thus circumscribed the sphere of our influence in these particular places.
4. The agitations consequent upon the discussions respecting slavery and abolitionism, no doubt tended to distract the minds of many, and to prevent the growth of experimental and practical religion.
But whatever may have been the causes of this diminution in numbers, the fact awakened a spirit of inquiry, highly beneficial in its results. It led to self-examination, to self-abasement, humiliation, and prayer, that God might again visit his heritage with the outpouring of his Spirit, and a revival of his work.
Notwithstanding this apparent declension in the general work, there was a gradual enlargement of the field of missionary labor, the particulars of which will be mentioned hereafter.
The deaths of thirty-five preachers are recorded this year; one hundred and thirty-six had located, one hundred and sixteen were returned supernumerary, one hundred and sixty-five superannuated, four had withdrawn, and four were expelled.
Among those whose deaths are recorded this year, we find the name of Philip Gatch, who joined the traveling ministry in 1773, under the superintendence of Thomas Rankin, when there were but ten traveling preachers in America. He outlived all his contemporaries, and maintained an unblemished reputation to the last, though he desisted from the labors of an itinerant preacher from the year 1787 until toward the close of his life, when he was readmitted in the relation of a superannuated preacher. In this relation he died on Sabbath evening, the twenty-eighth day of December, 1835, in the eighty-fifth year of his age. On the day of his eighty-fourth year he preached his last sermon, and finally closed his life in great peace of mind, and no doubt rests from his labors.
In the early days of his ministry he endured sometimes |a great fight of affliction,| having to contend with the common prejudices of the day against Methodist preachers, and with the troubles originating from the war of the Revolution. He, however, kept |his soul in patience,| and manfully buffeted the waves of persecution which sometimes raged around him, though he did not wholly escape their fury. At one time he fell into the hands of a mob, who, while endeavoring to cover him with tar, cruelly drew some of it across his naked eye-ball, which came near destroying the use of his eye; but he still persevered in his work, |as seeing Him who is invisible,| and who upholds and rewards his faithful servants in the midst of their labors and sufferings. Want of health compelled him to desist from the work of a traveling preacher, and in 1798 he removed into the Northwestern territory, now state of Ohio, and settled on the Little Miami, a few miles from Cincinnati. The country was then new, Cincinnati being only an inconsiderable village, and Methodism scarcely known to its inhabitants. Here he became actively and usefully engaged as a local preacher, and was much respected as a citizen, contributing greatly, by his active exertions and example of piety and diligence, to advance the cause of religion and morals.
Not willing that he should die in obscurity, unwept and forgotten, his brethren of the Ohio conference readmitted him into their fellowship as a worn-out veteran of the cross, and he ended his days in the sight of his brethren, beloved and respected as |an old disciple| of his Lord and Master.
Christopher Fry, of the Baltimore conference, was a minister of considerable age and standing, having joined the traveling connection in 1802.
Though not possessed of brilliant talents as a preacher, he was among the most useful, being deeply read in the Holy Scriptures, and always enforcing the truths which he uttered by the fervency of his piety, and the godliness of his example. Apt to teach, and wise to govern, he was selected to fill the office of presiding elder, and he much endeared himself to his brethren by the gentleness of his manners, by his diligence in his calling, and his strict regard to the discipline of his Church.
Though his death was sudden and unexpected to his friends, it did not find him unprepared. On the sabbath before his death, in an address which he delivered to the people, he dwelt, with great fervor of spirit and solemnity of manner, upon Christian experience, and then adverting to his own, he testified to the knowledge he had of the love of God in his heart, and the many years he had enjoyed the witness of his acceptance in the sight of God. |For this faith,| he remarked with emphasis, |I would be willing to burn at the stake.| Two days after this, while attending to the operations of a threshing machine, it caught his leg, and ere he could be extricated from his perilous condition, his thigh bone was broken, his knee crushed, and nearly the entire limb severely injured. He survived these injuries only about three hours. In the midst of his exquisite sufferings he said, in answer to a question by his beloved and weeping wife, |My whole body is in tumult, but my soul is calm and stayed on God.| After a short interval, in answer to a friend who inquired the state of his mind, he said, |My body is in an agony of pain, but my soul is happy, happy, happy!| With these words faltering upon his lips, he ceased to suffer and to breathe, and no doubt went to Abraham's bosom.
Of the others who had taken their departure, excellent things are said both of their life and death; and their reward is doubtless with their God.
Numbers in the Church: Whites This Year: 564,974; Last Year: 566,957; Decrease: 1,983 -- Colored This Year: 82,661; Last Year: 83,135; Decrease: 474 -- Indians This Year: 3,033; Last Year: 2,436; Increase: 597 -- Total This Year: 650,668; Last Year: 652,528 -- Decrease: 1,860 -- Preachers This Year: 2,929; Last Year: 2,758; Increase: 171.
This decrease in the number of Church members has already been accounted for, and, as might be supposed, the fact led to |great searchings of heart| among those who felt as they ought for the prosperity of the Church, and to an application of those means which were necessary for a revival of the work of God.
Among the means used for the revival and spread of the work of God, was that of adding strength to the missionary work.
We have already seen that efforts had been made to establish missions in South America. On the 22d of March, 1836, the Rev. Justin Spaulding, of the New England conference, sailed from the port of New York for Rio de Janeiro, the capital of the Brazilian empire. This magnificent city contains many residents from different parts of Europe and the United States, and being a place of considerable trade, a number of English and American sailors are constantly in the port. By these foreigners brother Spaulding was affectionately received, and the letters received from him, after his arrival, gave us reason to hope for a favorable issue of his labors.
Since the change in the political affairs of the country, though the Roman Catholic religion is still the religion of the empire, and is supported by the law of the land, a much more liberal spirit prevails among the higher orders of society, and their confidence in the infallibility of the priesthood, and those superstitions by which that church is distinguished, is much weakened; it is, therefore, hoped that the time is not distant when the |blindness which has happened| to that branch of the Christian church shall be removed, and a way opened for a free and unrestrained promulgation of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ in the empire of Brazil.
In the present state of things, however, brother Spaulding could have access only to the English and American portion of the population. To as many of these as would attend his meeting he preached in a private room, prepared for the purpose, and he had the happiness of finding a few who were willing to unite with him in his pious endeavors to spread Scriptural truth and holiness among the people. He was much aided in this good work by distributing among the people the holy Scriptures in the Portuguese language, with which he was generously furnished gratuitously by the American Bible Society. Indeed, he found the people, even the natives of the country, eager to read the word of God in their own language, notwithstanding the prejudices which had been excited against it by their early education.
Such were the encouraging prospects before him, that on the recommendation of brother Spaulding, an additional missionary, the Rev. Daniel P. Kidder, of the Genesee conference, and a male and female teacher, were selected and sent to this field of labor. They sailed from the port of Boston on the 12th of November, 1837, and arrived in safety to their place of destination. They immediately entered upon their work with a fair prospect of success; but the school, though prosperous for a season, did not answer our expectations, and was therefore abandoned in despair. Brother Kidder, after mastering the Portuguese language, traveled extensively from one city and village to another, distributing Bibles and tracts, and was generally received with affection and treated with respect, though the civil regulations of the country would not allow him to preach to the natives in their own language.
In Rio de Janeiro brother Spaulding had formed a small class, had established a sabbath school, and he occasionally preached to the sailors on board of the American vessels which were in the port. In this good work he was much encouraged by Commodore Nicholson, the United States naval officer, to whom he was favorably known as a minister of the gospel, and who gave countenance to his efforts. Yet with all these labors and hopeful prospects, Rio de Janeiro is a hard place for the gospel to operate upon, and has yielded but little fruit of our labor. The strong prejudices of the Catholic population, the indifference of most of those who call themselves Protestants, and the want of full toleration for the exercise of religious worship, present almost insuperable barriers in the way of planting the seeds of divine truth in that rugged soil. It is hoped, however, that a steady perseverance |in well doing| will eventually overcome opposition, and that we shall yet see South America delivered from the shackles of Romanism, and brought into the glorious |liberty of the sons of God.|
On the 14th of October, 1836, the Rev. John Dempster, of the Oneida conference, sailed from New York, as a missionary for Buenos Ayres, the capital of the Argentine republic, in South America. In this delightful city, which takes its name (good air) from the salubrity of the climate, there were supposed to be about five thousand foreigners, English, Scotch, and Americans, to whom brother Dempster, on his arrival, made known the objects of his visit. He was cordially received, and he soon opened his mission under favorable auspices, by preaching to a large and attentive congregation assembled in a room which he had hired for that purpose. His preaching soon made a most favorable impression upon the minds of the people, and his congregation increased to that degree, that he found it necessary to enlarge his place of worship, and he was, the next year, authorized by the board of managers to purchase a lot of ground, and proceed to the erection of a house of worship, about fifteen hundred dollars being subscribed by the people in Buenos Ayres, and ten thousand dollars more appropriated by the managers, to meet the expenses.
These bright prospects were, however, soon eclipsed in some measure by a rigid blockade established by the government of France, so that all ingress and egress for foreign vessels, except ships of war belonging to neutral nations, were prevented. This measure of seeking national redress for supposed wrongs very soon brought much distress upon the people, cut off all intercourse by merchantmen, and drove many of the foreign residents to seek an asylum in Monte Video and other places, as might best suit their convenience. But though brother Dempster, in consequence of these things, was very reluctantly compelled to remit his endeavors to build a church, and though his congregation was somewhat diminished in numbers, yet he persevered in his work, acquired more and more of the public confidence, and even succeeded in establishing a flourishing school. In this last work he was aided by the arrival of a teacher, Mr. Hiram A. Wilson, a graduate of the Wesleyan University, who was sent by the managers, in September of 1838. He soon commenced a school in Buenos Ayres, and it has so prospered, that in 1840 another male and a female teacher were sent to aid him in this good work. There is therefore every reason to believe that the issue of this mission will be prosperous.
Among the most important missions on our list is Liberia, an account of which, until the deaths of Cox and Wright, has already been given. In 1835 the Rev. John Seys of the Oneida conference, was appointed by Bishop Hedding the superintendent of this mission. He entered upon this hazardous enterprise with an enlightened zeal, and soon succeeded in establishing preaching, and forming societies in nearly all the settlements in Liberia. The next year he was joined by the Rev. J. B. Barton, of the Georgia conference, and they strengthened each other's hands in the work of the Lord. Though a war commenced upon the colonists by one of the native chiefs, which spread death in the colony, and sickness had deprived brother Seys of a promising son, and prostrated himself wife, and brother Barton, for a season, yet he and they persevered in faith and hope, and they reported for the year 1836 three hundred and seventy-five members of the Church, and one hundred and twenty-eight children in the schools.
We have already seen that there were in Liberia several colored local preachers, most of whom had emigrated to that country for the purpose of enjoying the blessings of civil and religious liberty in their |fatherland.| These were called into the active service of the ministry, and were eminently useful in building up the cause of God. One of them, brother Williams, formerly lieutenant-governor of the colony, volunteered his services to penetrate into the Congo country, for the purpose of ascertaining the probability of establishing a mission and school in king Boatswain's dominions the king having manifested much friendship for the colonists and the mission. He was kindly received, and obtained from this friendly chief a promise of patronage and assistance. And though the good design was not carried into effect immediately, on account of a war which commenced about that time between the king and the Golah tribe yet the attempt led to important results; for soon after brother Seys was waited upon by a messenger from Boatswain, escorted by no less than two hundred men, among whom were some of his principal generals, requesting that a teacher might be speedily sent among them. After much prayer and consultation, a young colonist of good education and deep piety, by the name of Jacobs, was appointed for that station, at which the natives who had been sent on this errand of mercy expressed great satisfaction and joy.
By means of these additional laborers, they enlarged the sphere of their operations, established a new mission at Bushrod island, commenced a new stone house for divine worship in Monrovia, and a manual labor school at Millsburgh, called the Whiteplains Manual Labor school, both of which have been since completed; the former is filled from one sabbath to another with attentive hearers, and the latter is in successful operation, imparting the blessings of education and religion to the rising generation.
In the month of September, 1836, brother Seys, with a view to recruit his health, which had been much impaired by the corroding influence of the climate, and his excessive labors, visited the United States, and traveled extensively, holding missionary meetings, giving information to the people respecting the state of things in Africa, and taking up collections in behalf of the mission. This movement had a most happy effect in awakening a spirit of prayer, of liberality, and of active exertions in the cause of missions. In the following October he returned, taking in company with him, as his colleagues in labor and suffering, the Rev. Squire Chase, of the Oneida conference, and the Rev. George Brown, a colored local preacher of piety and talents, who, upon his arrival in Liberia, entered the traveling ministry, and has been very useful.
As the General Conference of 1836 had constituted the Liberia mission into a mission annual conference, brother Seys, as its superintendent, had called the preachers together, organized them into a conference, and nearly all the colored local preachers had become its members, and were therefore not considered in the character of traveling preachers. His gave a systematic energy to their operations, which added much to their strength and efficiency, and extended their influence more powerfully throughout the colony.
As the members of the mission family, as well as the colonists, had suffered, and were still suffering much for want of a competent physician, the board adopted measures for furnishing them with one, and also with no more female teachers. Accordingly, in the month of June of this year, Dr. S. M. E. Goheen, a young physician of piety and talent, embarked in company with the teachers for Liberia. They arrived in safety, and entered upon their work with energy and success. Dr. Goheen has been eminently useful as a physician, having succeeded admirably in checking and controlling the disease of the country, which has proved fatal to so many white people, as well as to many of the colonists, more especially soon after their landing while undergoing their acclimation. The teachers also have so far filled their stations to general acceptance, and they still continue their work for the benefit of the children and youth of their own sex.
The mission was greatly owned of God this year. In nearly all the stations, now employing no less than fifteen missionaries, white and colored, God poured out his Spirit, so that there were added to the Methodist Episcopal Church no less than one hundred and sixty members, twenty of whom were natives. In addition to the above-mentioned missionaries, and the physician, who aided the mission much by his active endeavors to promote the general cause, there were seven school teachers, having charge of two hundred and twenty-one pupils; and also three hundred children were taught in the sabbath schools. A temperance society was formed, with auxiliaries, on the pledge of total abstinence from intoxicating liquors as a beverage; and all things seemed to be going on prosperously. Brother Chase, however, soon fell sick of the African fever, and he was so prostrated as to abandon all hopes of recovery there; accordingly he returned to the United States, where he has since been restored to his usual health.
From this prosperous state of things in Liberia, the board of managers determined, on the pressing representation of brother Seys, to establish a classical school. A teacher, the Rev. J. Burton, a local preacher, and a graduate of Allegheny College, was accordingly engaged, and funds appropriated for erecting a suitable building, and furnishing the needful books, apparatus, etc. A printer was also appointed, who was furnished with a press and materials for printing, and brother Seys was authorized to issue a semimonthly paper, to be called |Africa's Luminary,| of which he was appointed editor. In 1839 the academy went into operation; and the first number of Africa's Luminary was issued on the fifteenth of March, 1839. Both its contents and mechanical execution reflect honor upon its editor and printer.
An additional missionary was also sent out by the same expedition, the Rev. W. Stocker. He did not, however, long survive. Soon after his arrival, he was seized with the fever of the climate, and after lingering for a while, alternately reviving and sinking, he finally fell asleep in Jesus, in the hope of everlasting life.
In the same year the mission was destined to suffer another loss by the death of one of its most devoted missionaries, the Rev. J. B. Barton. He had labored for the benefit of Africa nearly four years, with great zeal and usefulness, and, to all human appearance, had become so acclimated as to be able to resist the inroads of the fever for many years. The year before his death he visited the land of his birth, married him a pious wife, and returned to Liberia with a view to devote the residue of his days to the salvation of Africa; but not long after his return, his young wife, with her infant child, was called to mourn over the sudden death of a pious and devoted husband, in a strange and foreign land. As, however, he lived to the Lord, so he died in the Lord, and is enjoying the reward of his sacrifices and labors in the world of glory.
It had been the earnest desire of the board of managers and of the bishops, that, in addition to supplying the colonists with the word and ordinances of the gospel, the native population should not be neglected. Accordingly, efforts had been made, hitherto with but little immediate success, to penetrate into the interior, and call the attention of the native Africans to the blessings of Christianity. Some few, who had occasionally mingled with the colonists, and attended our places of worship, had tasted |that the Lord is good,| and twenty of these had become members of the Church. Still, however, but a feeble impression had been made upon the minds of the |heathen round about,| and the efforts to reach them more effectually with gospel truth were renewed with great ardor in 1838. At length, a building was erected and a school opened in a place bordering on heathen territory, called, in honor of the bishop who had interested himself much in behalf of the Liberia mission, Heddington, for the special benefit of native children and youth, and the charge of it was given to brother George Brown. Here he commenced operations, uniting manual labor with mental training. God honored the enterprise. In a short time the house was filled, and the divine Spirit was poured out upon its inmates, and how between seventy and eighty have professed a |knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins.|
There are now, 1840, employed in this interesting mission, fourteen missionaries, six teachers, and one physician. In the several stations there are seven hundred and twenty-eight Church members, and about four hundred pupils in the several schools. The mission is, indeed, exerting a hallowing influence upon almost the entire population of the colony, and gradually extending its influence among the native Africans themselves. If, therefore, no untoward circumstance shall supervene to interrupt its progress, but it shall go on in its career of usefulness as it has been begun, and thus far advanced, increasing in power and influence in a ratio already seen, who can calculate the benefits it shall confer upon the benighted sons and daughters of Africa! May God ever have it under his holy protection.
In the western parts of our country, new fields for missionary enterprise were daily opening, for which the Missionary Society was affording supplies; but as they differ nothing materially from ordinary new circuits, it is considered inexpedient to swell this History in naming them more particularly than to say, that they were the means of giving to these new and destitute places increased facilities for securing gospel privileges, and the surest means of temporal and spiritual prosperity.
The aboriginal missions, heretofore particularly noticed, were generally prosperous, though some of them were still suffering from the removal of the Indians to their new homes west of the Mississippi.
Thirty-two preachers had died during the past year; one hundred and thirty-five located, one hundred were returned supernumerary, and two hundred and fourteen superannuated; four had been expelled, and three had withdrawn.
An effort had been made to ascertain the number of local preachers, and this year I find the number returned on the Minutes to be 4,954. As, however, all the conferences had not sent in their reports, the enumeration must have been incomplete.
Numbers in the Church: Whites This Year: 570,123; Last Year: 564,974; Increase: 5,149 -- Colored This Year: 76,657; Last Year: 82,296; Decrease: 5,639 -- Indians This Year: 2,695; Last Year: 2,833; Decrease: 138 -- Total This Year: 658,574; Last Year: 653,032 -- Increase: 5,542 -- Preachers This Year: 3,147; Last Year: 2,929; Increase: 218.
The work of God in the conversion of souls, judging from accessions which were made to the Church, was much more prosperous than it had been for the two past years. Revivals were prevalent, and the spirit of missions and the cause of education were advancing more and more.
In the northwestern part of the Illinois conference, efforts had been made to introduce the gospel among the Winnebago, Sioux, and Crow Indians, with some degree of success, and a few schools had been established for the education of their children. This year they were more regularly supplied with laborers, and with a better prospect of success, though the good work by no means prospered as it had done among the other tribes for whose salvation we had labored. But among the Potawattomies about one hundred were added to the Church.
In the summer of l837 a spirited effort was made to establish missions in the republic of Texas. This extensive and fertile country, first visited by La Salle in 1685, lying south of the state of Arkansas and west of Louisiana, formed a part of the Mexican republic, and contains not less than 193,000 square miles. Its climate is remarkably mild and healthy, the soil rich and productive, bringing forth an abundance of cotton, sugar-cane, corn, and other staples common to the southern states and to Mexico. Into this fertile region many of the citizens of the United States had removed, being invited by the beauty and fertility of the country, and the favorable terms on which grants of land had been made to actual settlers by the Mexican government. Hence large settlements had been formed along the Rio Colorado and Rio Brasos, and some towns had become places of considerable trade, and were fast rising into importance. The eastern part of Texas, more especially, was settled principally by emigrants from the United States.
These, together with those Mexicans who took the liberty of thinking for themselves, became very restless under the oppressive government of Mexico, the intolerant spirit of which proscribed all religious sects except the Roman Catholic, and otherwise exacted obedience to laws which pressed heavily upon those who had been accustomed to breathe the free air, and to enjoy the immunities of citizens of the United States. Hence an insurrectionary movement commenced, which eventuated in the severance of the union of Texas with Mexico, and the establishment of an independent government. The battle of San Jacinto, in which the American arms triumphed over the prowess of Santa Anna, the Mexican general, decided the fate of Texas, and left the inhabitants at liberty to establish a government according to their own choice; and they proceeded to frame one after the model of the United States, in which civil and religious rights and privileges were secured alike to all sects and parties. This opened the way for the missionary of the cross to enter and proclaim salvation unto the people.
Among those who removed into Texas, there were several members of our own Church, some of whom were local preachers; and with a view to preserve their piety, they assembled together for mutual edification and comfort, sending, in the mean time, a loud and urgent call to their brethren in the United States for help. The Missionary Society responded to this call, and accepted of the services of the Rev. Dr. Ruter, a member of the Pittsburgh conference, and president of the Allegheny College, who resigned his presidency, and offered himself as a missionary for Texas. Accordingly, in the summer of 1837, accompanied by two young preachers, Dr. Ruter entered upon his work in this young republic. They found the people ripe for the gospel. Though vice and ignorance of spiritual things prevailed to an alarming extent, yet the missionaries were received with great respect and affection, and they soon succeeded in forming circuits, and establishing preaching in different parts of the country. In St. Augustine, Nacogdoches, Houston, and Washington, they commenced building houses of worship, the people subscribing liberally toward the expense, besides contributing about [USD]1000 toward the support of their preacher.
This promising state of things induced the proper authorities of the Church to send the next year additional laborers into that fruitful field, and they have been gradually increased until, at the last General Conference, the Texas annual conference was organized, and they have now nineteen preachers, and about one thousand Church members, nearly as many as there were in the United States at the first conference in 1773.
Soon after the arrival of Dr. Ruter in Texas, he adopted measures, being encouraged by the liberal offers of the government and the people, for establishing a college. And though he did not live to realize the object of his wishes in this respect, being cut off in the midst of his usefulness, yet the enterprise has been prosecuted by his successors in the work, and the college has been erected and gone into operation tinder the most favorable circumstances. The government appropriated eight thousand eight hundred and eighty-three acres of land for its endowment, granted a liberal charter, and |Rutersville,| the name of the township in which the college is located, commemorates the talents and zeal with which its founder prosecuted the noble enterprise, and the veneration which is felt for his memory by his survivors. It is pleasantly situated, in a healthy and delightful part of the country, and promises much usefulness to the rising population of that growing republic.
This, therefore, is a most promising field of missionary labor, giving sure indications of an ample harvest of souls to its enterprising cultivators.
The constant influx of Germans into our country, especially into some of the cities and villages of the west, suggested the necessity of establishing missions for their special benefit. Accordingly, in 1836, a mission was commenced in Cincinnati, and it was given in charge of the Rev. William Nast, a young German preacher of sound education and deep piety, who could preach and write both in the German and English languages. He entered upon his work with an enlightened zeal, and was successful in making good and lasting impressions upon the minds and hearts of many of his countrymen. The work has gone on steadily from that day to this, spreading in various directions in the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, in Wheeling, Pittsburgh, and a number of other places, so that there are now 1840) six German missionaries employed, and there are on the several circuits upward of four hundred members of the Church.
These missions have been much aided by the American Bible and Tract Societies, which have made liberal donations of German Bibles and tracts for gratuitous distribution among the people.
In the city of New York a mission was commenced this year for the benefit of the French population who were resident here. A young Frenchman by the name of Williamson had recently been made a partaker of pardoning mercy, had become a member of our Church, and be felt a great concern of mind for the salvation of his countrymen, many of whom were |as sheep without a shepherd.| There had, indeed, been a society of French people attached to our Church in the city of New York for a number of years, the germ of which was imported here from the island of Guernsey, where our British brethren had labored with success for a series of years.
Mr. Williamson hired a room for preaching, and has continued his labors with diligence to the present time; but such are the prejudices of the greater proportion of the French population, that his congregation has been but small, and the prospects of success are rather gloomy. A few, however, have been brought from darkness to light, who, it is hoped, may |be faithful until death.|
These, together with the constant enlargement of our work in the new countries, and the more vigorous action generally throughout our borders, gave us an increase to our membership this year of upward of forty thousand.
The Georgia conference, stimulated by the example of their brethren in other places, had made, and were now making, spirited and successful efforts in the cause of education. In 1835 they had commenced a classical and manual labor school in Covington, Ga., which was soon in successful operation, exerting an enlightening and hallowing influence upon the youth intrusted to its tuition and care. A literary institution was also established for the education of females, which bids fair to confer substantial blessings upon that class of the population. In 1836 the Emory College was founded, and it has since gone into operation under the presidency of the Rev. Ignatius A. Few, whose classical learning and deep piety eminently qualify him for his station. These institutions are gathering around them the youth of the country, of both sexes, and prove the' capabilities of our people to educate their own sons and daughters, provided suitable mean are used to call them into action.
Ninety-eight preachers were located this year, six expelled, two had withdrawn, one hundred and six returned supernumerary, two hundred and sixteen superannuated, and seventeen had died.
We have already seen that the Texas mission was placed under the superintendence of Dr. Martin Ruter. Here he ended his days. He commenced his itinerant career in the early days of Methodism in New England, when he was only sixteen years of age, and was admitted on trial in the New York conference in 1801. In 1804 he went as a missionary to Montreal, in Lower Canada, where he gave great satisfaction to the people by the diligence and ability with which he discharged his duties. Though young in the ministry, he evinced a thorough acquaintance with the truths of the gospel, having applied himself with great assiduity to study, and particularly to the study of the Bible.
After filling some of the most important stations in the bounds of the New England conference, after that conference was formed, when a branch of the Book Concern was established in Cincinnati, in 1820, brother Ruter was appointed by the General Conference to the charge of that institution. In this station he continued, by a re-election in 1824, eight years, discharging its duties with great fidelity.
Before the expiration of his term as book agent, he was elected president of the Augusta College, and entered upon its duties in 1828, where he continued for about four years, when, on resigning his office, he was transferred to the Pittsburgh conference. Soon after his transfer he was called to preside over the Allegheny College, an institution which he was chiefly instrumental in establishing and putting into successful operation. This office he filled for about three years, when he resigned his station for the purpose of embarking in the more laborious and hazardous enterprise of carrying the gospel and establishing Methodism in the republic of Texas. He entered upon his work in the month of October, 1837, and soon laid plans for systematizing the labor and enlarging the boundaries of that extensive vineyard of the Lord, so is to comprehend as much as practicable within the several circuits which were formed by him and his colleagues in the missionary work.
Not content with the simple routine of labor appertaining to a Methodist preacher, being encouraged by the leading men of the republic, he devised a plan for establishing a college and other seminaries of learning; for he was always an ardent friend of literature and science. In these various labors he was incessantly engaged from the time he entered Texas until sickness compelled him to desist. His sufferings were somewhat protracted and severe. He bore them, however, with patience and submission to the divine will, and finally ended his days upon earth in peace, and the hope of eternal life.
Dr. Ruter deserves great credit for his attainments in literature and science. Born in humble circumstances, receiving nothing more than a common school education, and then entering the itinerancy at the early age of sixteen -- an example not to be imitated if it can be consistently avoided-he was deprived of those literary advantages in his youth, which are generally considered essential to eminence it a more mature time of life. Yet he surmounted the difficulties of his situation, and astonished both himself and his friends by his literary and scientific attainments. To the study of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, as well as the French, he applied himself with successful diligence, and gave evidence of how much may be accomplished by a constant application of our powers, and an assiduous improvement of our time and opportunities, even in the midst of discouraging obstacles, and the want of the most appropriate means of instruction.
It is not, indeed, pretended that his mind was of the first order. For strength of intellectual powers, and for depth and variety of learning, many others stood far in advance of Dr. Ruter. But, possessed of a good understanding, and being impelled by an ardent thirst for knowledge, he |sowed beside all waters,| and in due time reaped a plentiful harvest. It would, indeed, be a reflection upon the discernment of those who awarded to him the honors of a college twice, by conferring first the degree of A. M., and secondly of B. D., to suppose that his literary and theological attainments were not respectable, and his deportment irreproachable Equally strong in his favor is the fact of his having been elected to the presidency of the Augusta and Allegheny Colleges, and of their having prospered tinder his oversight though it may be admitted that in these stations he did not shine with a brilliancy equal to general expectation.
Divine grace had done much for him. Having been made a partaker of justification by faith in Jesus Christ in the days of his youth, and having entered upon the duties of an itinerant minister ere he had attained maturity of age and experience, he won for himself, by the blessing of God on his exertions, the character of a faithful servant of God, living and dying in the confidence and affection of his brethren. As a preacher of righteousness he was |in doctrine uncorrupt,| |in labors abundant,| and in success considerable. His forsaking the inviting fields of literature and science, in which he had moved with so much ease to himself and satisfaction to his friends, to encounter the hardships and privations of a missionary of the cross in the wilds of Texas, evinces at once the strength of his faith, and of his sincere devotion to the cause of Christ. He was now about fifty-two years of age, was surrounded with domestic comforts, lived in the midst of his friends, and might therefore have spent the remainder of his days in comparative ease and comfort; but the wants of the sons and daughters of Texas came up before him, accompanied with those impressive motives which, to a heart like his, were irresistible; and he obeyed the call and ran to the rescue of those who were ready to |perish for lack of knowledge.| He went; and before he fell, he had established a reputation among the people of Texas as imperishable as the town of |Rutersville,| which name was designed to perpetuate the memory of the man who sacrificed his life for their salvation.
Others might be mentioned, no less eminent for their Christian virtues and ministerial usefulness, |whose praise is in all the Churches| where they were known and their worth duly appreciated. But their |record is on high,| and their reward is with their God, in the midst of those who |turned many to righteousness. Such were John A. Waterman, of the Pittsburgh conference, and Robert L. Kennon, of the Alabama conference, who, by their early piety and great assiduity in their calling, rose to eminence among their brethren, and died equally honored and lamented. Andrew Hemphill also, of Irish extraction, gave evidence of that unreserved devotion to God which distinguished most of the early Methodist preachers, and who, for about thirty-five years, maintained the purity and dignity of the Christian ministry.
Numbers in the Church: Whites This Year: 615,212; Last Year: 575,077; Increase: 40,135 -- Colored This Year: 79,236; Last Year: 76,240; Increase: 2,996 -- Indians This Year: 2,101; Last Year: 2,695; Decrease: 594 -- Local Preachers This Year: 5,792; Last Year: 4,954; Increase: 838 -- Traveling Preachers This Year: 3,332; Last Year: 3,147; Increase: 185 -- Total This Year: 705,673; Last Year: 662,113 -- Increase: 43,560
The general interests of the Church were this year promoted by the simultaneous and energetic action of the different branches of ecclesiastical regulations, all of which were brought to bear upon the understandings and hearts of the people under our influence. But the most important accession which was made to the work was the reinforcement sent to the Oregon mission. After the arrival of the last-mentioned family, and holding a general consultation, it was finally agreed that brother Jason Lee should return to the United States, with a view to strengthen the mission by procuring the aid of additional missionaries, farmers, mechanics, etc. Being remote from all civilized society, except the small settlement at Williamette, and the members of the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, it seemed essential to the prosperity of the mission, that it should be furnished with means to itself with food, buildings, and all necessary apparatus for carrying on farming, and the needful mechanic arts. Accordingly, arrangements were made for sending an additional family; and, on the 9th of October of this year, a company, consisting of fifty persons, including six missionaries, with their wives and children, a physician, wife and child, a missionary steward, wife and two children, two farmers, wives and children, two carpenters, a cabinet-maker, and a blacksmith, their wives and children, together with five female teachers, sailed from the port of New York for the Oregon territory, by way of the Sandwich islands. They all arrived in safety, after a voyage of about ten months.
But, what was most cheering to the friends of missions, before the arrival of this company a most glorious work of religion had commenced among the Indians of Oregon, which terminated in the conversion of not less than one thousand of these degraded natives to the Christian faith. A reformation so sudden, deep, and wide, among such a people, had not been known in modern days, and it tended mightily to revive the missionary spirit among us, which had, indeed, begun to languish in many places.
A short account of the manner in which this marvelous work commenced and spread among the people will naturally be expected.
It had been adopted as a maxim from the beginning of our Indian missions, that Christianity must precede civilization. Hence our missionaries among the aborigines of our country were always instructed, first of all, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to them with all simplicity and plainness. This was especially charged upon the missionaries who went to Oregon. And though the circumstances with which they found themselves surrounded compelled the Lees to attend so much to secular things as to engross most of their time for the first year, so that they could give but a very small portion of their attention to religious instruction, yet, on the arrival of additional laborers, they applied themselves to the work with great assiduity, and soon saw the fruit of their labors in the conversion and salvation of souls.
The manner in which this work commenced evinces the truth of our remark, namely, that the Indians must be reformed in heart and life by the gospel of Jesus Christ, before we can hope to reclaim them from barbarism to the practice and blessings of civilized life. How could it be otherwise? Ministers of the gospel are not sent primarily to teach human science, or to train people in domestic and political economy. Their message is of a different character. It is to inform the understanding and reform the heart and life, by the application of divine truth to the conscience and to the judgment. When this reformation is effected, the rest follows as a consequence. Their minds become flexible, their hearts tender, and they nay then easily be led on to perceive and to appreciate the blessings of civil and domestic economy, and finally to attend to farming and mechanical pursuits. The experience of more than twenty years, among a variety of Indian tribes, has demonstrated the truth of these remarks.
So it was in Oregon in the present revival. The missionaries became convinced that they must be more holy in order to be more useful. That they might become so they set apart seasons for prayer and mutual edification. First one Indian and then another, beholding the fervency and frequency of their devotions, requested to be instructed in the nature of these things. Their request was granted. Convictions followed in the same manner, attended with the same circumstances of spiritual distress, and earnest prayer for deliverance, as are seen among civilized people who are impressed with gospel truth. When one and then another were delivered, their joyful hearts led them to say to their heathen brethren, |Come and hear, and I will declare what God hath done for my soul.| Their words, uttered from the fulness of their hearts, took effect: others were brought under conviction for sin, sought by faith and prayer, and found |redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.|
In this way the work begun, and in this way it went on and spread, and is still spreading, so that, as before said, not less than one thousand of these people have been |brought from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.| And by the use of the same means we have no doubt that it will continue its saving and hallowing influence until all the hills and valleys of Oregon shall echo with the songs of redeeming love.
The other missions upon our western frontiers were this year prosecuted with vigor and perseverance, and with various degrees of success.
Another occurrence of this year exerted very general interest, and was attended with many blessings: -- I allude to the Centenary of Methodism. As the first Methodist society was formed in London in the month of November, 1739, so 1839 became properly the one hundredth year of Methodism. Accordingly, our brethren in Europe and America prepared to celebrate the event with all due solemnity and religious fervor. The 25th of November was fixed upon as the day for this religious celebration. That it might be made a season of spiritual improvement, and at the same time yield an increase of means for extending the work of God on every hand, it was determined to blend together, as far as might be, religious exercises and the making collections for missionary and educational purposes, and for the support of the worn-out preachers, and the widows, children and orphans of preachers. A very general pulsation was felt throughout the entire Methodist community in favor of the celebration, and the several annual conferences adopted measures for its observance on the day appointed. As nearly as can be ascertained, the amount collected was divided as follows: About one half was to be devoted for the benefit of superannuated preachers, the widows, children, and orphans of preachers, two-tenths for the support of missions, and the remainder for the promotion of education.
The manner in which the celebration was conducted had a hallowing influence upon the Church generally, and tended very much to increase the spirit of devotion, to give more enlarged views of the divine goodness in raising up such a man as John Wesley, and in blessing the world with such a system as Methodism. Sermons were preached, and addresses delivered in almost every society throughout the connection, both on the 25th of November, the day on which the foundation of Methodism was laid by forming the first class, and on previous days for the purpose of taking up collections for the objects specified. The exact amount subscribed I have not been able to ascertain, but it must have been in the neighborhood of [USD]600,000, though it is not likely that the whole will be collected.
It was indeed a sublime spectacle to contemplate the assemblage of more than one million of people, joined by perhaps three times that number of friends, uniting to offer up thanksgiving to God for his boundless mercy to a lost world, manifested in the gift of his Son! And as one of the many rivulets which flow from that exhaustless fountain of eternal love ran through the channel opened by Wesley, it seemed right and proper for his numerous sons in the gospel to commemorate the day which gave the first impetus to this flowing stream of grace and mercy. Some, indeed, affected to call it a species of idolatry. But why is it any more an act of idolatry to praise God for raising up, and blessing the world with such men as John Wesley, than it is to praise him for any other blessings, whether temporal or spiritual? We praise God for the heavens and the earth, with all their much and varied productions. We praise him for the gospel, and all its attendant blessings. Why should we not also praise and adore him for those human instrumentalities by which the world has been enlightened and reformed? It is indeed marvelous that many of those whose tender consciences will not permit them to render honor to whom honor is due, do not scruple to defame the character of those men, who, like John Wesley, have rendered the most important services to mankind, merely because they have dissented from them in opinion on some unimportant points!
Did we ascribe that glory to man which is due to God alone, and detract from the merits of Jesus Christ by ascribing the glory of our salvation to human wisdom and righteousness, we might well be accused of idolatry. But we do no such thing. We honor John Wesley because God honored him, and because he, by his preaching and his whole life, reflected the honor and glory of God on his fellow-men.
By thus distinguishing between God and his servant, making the one dependent on the other, and yet so connecting them that the servant cannot act and move, nor bring any thing good to pass without the direction and aid of the Master, we secure the glory which is due to God alone, while we permit his servant to shine in those borrowed rays reflected upon him from the |Sun of righteousness.|
Nor do we fear any thing from the pride of sect. It is not sectarianism which mars the beauty of gospel holiness. A man may be as proud, as vainglorious, and as much sectarian in his feelings, while pleading against all sectarianism, as if he were the most bigoted sectarist in the universe. All these things are mere accidents of the Christian character. They may or may not exist injuriously. It depends altogether upon the state of the heart. If the heart be humbled and purified by grace, by the energetic working of the Holy Spirit, pride of all sorts is expelled, and love to universal man takes its place. This alone is destructive of that exceptionable sectarian spirit by which the religious bigot is actuated.
We humbly trust that this love was excited and diffused by this centennial celebration. It gave us an opportunity of reviewing first principles, of estimating anew the numberless blessings bestowed upon us as a people, of praising God for the past, and of clustering together motives for future trust and diligence.
Nor is it doubted but that the thank offerings which were poured out upon the altar of God, from so many pure hearts, had a tendency to enkindle and increase the gratitude of thousands of devoted souls, as well as to nourish the spirit of pure benevolence and charity. With these views and feelings, the event was commemorated, and so long as they are cherished, so long shall we continue to bless God for giving to the world such a man as John Wesley.
The Indiana conference had taken measures for the establishment of a literary institution within its bounds as early as 1837, by the appointment of agents to solicit funds for its endowment, and for erecting suitable buildings, etc. In 1838 it went into operation by the appointment of professors, and receiving students. This year, the Indiana Asbury University, as it was called, received its president and faculty, and has taken its place and rank among the rising stars of literature and science, which were appearing in our hemisphere, to enlighten the rising generation.
Two colleges had been commenced under the patronage of the Holston conference, and were now in successful operation. And St. Charles College was rising into being, under the patronage of the Missouri conference.
Besides the Emory College in the bounds of the Georgia conference, there were under its auspices the Georgia Female College, the Georgia Conference Manual Labor School, Collingwsorth Institute, and the Wesley Manual Labor School, all of which are exerting an enlightening influence upon those portions of the population for whose benefit they were especially established. The Cokesbury Manual Labor School was founded by the South Carolina conference, and was now beginning to shed its light upon the rising population of that region of country.
The New Jersey conference also had succeeded in establishing two academies within its bounds, one for male, and the other for female students. They both promise usefulness. Two academics had been recently commenced in the bounds of the New Hampshire conference, called the Newbury Seminary, and South New Market Seminary.
From these facts it would appear that the Methodist Episcopal Church was determined to redeem her character from the imputation thrown upon it from time to time, not without some show of reason, that she was indifferent to the cause of learning. If her liberality in collecting funds for the purpose of endowing and sustaining her literary institutions shall be in proportion to her zeal in founding and getting them into operation, she will deserve the thanks of the community, and will confer untold blessings upon her sons and daughters. Otherwise, however, these institutions will but linger out a sickly existence, and perhaps perish for want of that nursing care which she is abundantly able to afford them.
Ninety-eight preachers were this year returned on the Minutes supernumerary, -- two hundred and sixty-one superannuated, one hundred and ten located, thirty-two had died, eight withdrawn, and six had been expelled.
Death had this year thinned our ranks, by taking away some of our oldest and most useful ministers, without, at the same time, sparing some of the younger class.
Among the most aged, and by no means the least able who had gone to their reward, was Thomas Morrell, of the New Jersey conference. He was born in November, 1747, and during the revolutionary war served in the continental army in the capacity of a captain, under the command of Washington. In this service his patriotism and courage were equally manifested, in encountering the difficulties and sharing the dangers of that protracted struggle for our national independence. In the battle on Long Island, which terminated so disastrously to the continental troops, Captain Morrell fell under a severe wound he received from the shot of the enemy, and was taken a prisoner. On being exchanged, and recovering from his wound, be resumed his place in the army, and continued to render important services to his country during the remainder of the war. At its termination, however, like most of his fellow-soldiers, through the poverty of his country, he was thrown upon his own resources for a livelihood, but he succeeded in procuring a competency for himself and family, and at his death bequeathed a valuable legacy to his widow and orphan children.
In 1783, the year in which the war ended, and the independence of the United States was acknowledged, Mr. Morrell was brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God, through the instrumentality of the Rev. John Haggerty, a Methodist preacher. In 1787 he was admitted into the traveling ministry, and he soon gave evidence of those eminent talents which distinguished him as an |able minister of the New Testament.|
On the death of Washington, in 1799, Mr. Morrell was one among the many who paid their respects to that illustrious chief by preaching a funeral discourse on the occasion. In this he gave vent to his own feelings of veneration for the general who had led the armies of America to victory, while he commemorated the virtues which adorned his character, and the valorous deeds by which he achieved the liberty and independence of his country.
After filling some of the most important stations, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, where he acquitted himself alike honorably to himself and us fully to the people, in 1803, on account of physical debility, he was compelled to restrict his ministerial labors; he accordingly located, and settled in Elizabethtown, in the state of New Jersey, where he continued to reside, respected and beloved, until his death. Some years before his death, at the request of those brethren who loved and honored him as a fellow-laborer who had once |borne the heat and burden of the day,| he was readmitted into the Philadelphia conference in the relation of a superannuated preacher, his income being amply sufficient for his support without drawing upon the funds of the conference.
It is no small evidence of his uniform piety, of his integrity, and of his talents as a preacher of righteousness, that the people of Elizabethtown always heard him with pleasure and profit, and looked up to him as a counselor in whose wisdom they reposed entire confidence. Here, therefore, he continued his ministrations with edifying delight, and his sermons were always characterized by accurate arrangement, by deep thought, and minute analysis, bearing equally upon the understanding and affections of his hearers. Equally removed from fanaticism on the one hand, and a cold, lifeless formality on the other, his sermons partook neither of passionate exclamations nor of dull metaphysical speculations, but of a happy mixture of sound argument and moving appeals, addressed alternately to the judgment and to the passions. Temperate in all things, and equally removed from idleness and excessive labor, he preserved the vigor of his constitution to a good old age, being, at the time of his death, ninety-one years old. Such was the strength of his intellectual and physical powers, that he continued to occupy the pulpit generally once every sabbath, until within about three years of his death, when the feebleness of age obliged him to desist. To this, however, he submitted with the same cheerful acquiescence which he had exemplified in the more active duties of life. During three years of passive submission to the divine will, he bore the marks of the mature Christian, waiting patiently until his allotted time came, and finally glided peacefully into the ocean of eternity, where he no doubt drinks from its perennial waters with unceasing delight.
He was only partially known to the writer, and then mostly near the close of his life. But he appeared to unite in himself those graces, and those moral and intellectual qualities, which rendered him every way companionable, fitted him for usefulness in the sphere in which he moved, and enabled him to derive enjoyment from every lawful source, whether purely religious, or from those creatures of God which are sanctified by the word of God and prayer. His good common sense, sound understanding, fervent piety, and a zeal characterized and guided by discretion, enabled him to meet in a becoming manner the various exigencies of human life, and to dispose of the subjects which came up for consideration in an intelligent and satisfactory manner.
In the latter years of his life he delighted in reviewing past events, in recounting incidents which had come under his own knowledge, and in magnifying the grace of God in Christ Jesus as exemplified in his own personal experience. In these social interviews there was |cheerfulness without sadness,| and a due mixture of the gravity of the Christian minister with the vivacity and buoyancy of a mind cheerful and happy in a consciousness of its own innocence. These things, together with that spirit of hospitality which was displayed under his roof rendered him an agreeable and edifying companion in those social interviews which he enjoyed with his friends. Indeed, it might he said of him that he was a cheerful old man, cheerful without levity, and grave without sadness, giving a practical illustration of the ministerial, social, and domestic virtues, worthy the imitation of all. And joining a prudent economy with industry, neatness, and plainness, he exhibited altogether the picture of an upright and perfect man in his day and generation, equally distant from ostentatious show on the one hand, and a vulgar meanness on the other. Whatever infirmities, therefore, may have oppressed him, grace enabled him to bear them with becoming patience, and the natural wanderings of an imperfect judgment were corrected by |the wisdom which cometh from above,| while his involuntary transgressions were atoned for by the same blood through which he was at |first accepted in the Beloved.|
Samuel Merwin, of the New York conference, had also exchanged labor for rest during the past year. He was a descendant of one of the New England pilgrims, and was born in Durham, Connecticut, September 13, 1777. While quite young his father and family removed and settled in New Durham, in the state of New York, then a wilderness country. Like young Timothy, he was taught, by his pious father and mother, the Holy Scriptures and to fear the Lord from his youth, the good effects of which appeared in his after life. His father's house being the resort of Methodist preachers, who, in those days, were penetrating every nook and comer in |search of the lost sheep of the house of Israel,| when but a lad he became, through their instrumentality, a subject of awakening and justifying grace, and was received into the Church. The ardor of his love and fervency of his zeal soon led him forth in prayer and exhortation, more especially in beseeching the youth of his acquaintance |to be reconciled to God.| Giving satisfactory evidence of his capacity and zeal in the cause of God, when about twenty years of age he was, by the presiding elder, employed on a circuit. In the year 1800 he was admitted on trial in the New York conference as an itinerant preacher; and it is greatly to his credit to he able to say in truth, that from that day to his death he never halted or turned aside from his vocation as a traveling preacher in the Methodist connection.
Soon after he entered upon his itinerant career, namely, in the year 1803, he was sent as a missionary to Lower Canada, and took his first station in Quebec, a place almost wholly given to the idolatry of Roman Catholicism, and where Protestantism had little more than a |name to live.| Such were the discouraging circumstances attending this first effort to plant Methodism in that strong-hold of iniquity, that brother Merwin continued his ministrations only about six weeks, when he left for Montreal. During this short stay, however, he made a favorable impression on some hearts, which opened the way for future efforts with greater promise of success.
In Montreal he continued to preach, with great acceptance and some success, the remainder of the year; when he was removed to the city of New York, where he rendered himself respected and beloved for his devotion to the came of Jesus Christ.
It is not compatible with this brief memoir to follow our beloved brother through the various stations he filled from year to year, and from place to place. His talents as a preacher, and his skill as a ruler, made it expedient to give him some of the most commanding stations in the bounds of the New England, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore conferences, to which he was alternately removed, and stationed in Boston, Providence, New York, Albany, Troy, Brooklyn, the Rhinebeck and New York districts, and in the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore. In all these places he so acquitted himself as to leave the savor of a good name behind him.
For several years before his death he was much oppressed with bodily infirmities. These were of such a character as often to threaten him with a premature death, and hence deprived the Church, at times, of his valuable services. A burning fever at one time, a paralysis at another, and constant soreness in one or the other, and sometimes both of his legs, so severe as almost to deprive him of their use, constituted a complication of diseases which called forth the exercise of much patience to enable him to bear them without murmuring. Yet such was his flaming zeal in the cause of God, that even in the midst of these infirmities he persevered in his work with his accustomed diligence, without any other abatement than what stern necessity imposed upon him from actual prostration of physical strength. Ann perhaps he may be included among the most punctual of our preachers -- not only in attending to every thing at the time, but also in scrupulously observing every part of his duty as a preacher, both as a presiding and ruling elder in the Church of God.
But the time at length came when he must resign up his stewardship to Him from whom he had received it. It was no doubt a source of severe affliction to him, as it was of grief to his friends, that, after having filled so many important stations with so much distinction and success, a remonstrance was made against his being stationed among them from a people who had formerly profited by his labors; but it is a consolation to know that it originated from a supposition that his bodily infirmities only disqualified him from discharging his duties with success; and also that the people to whom he was sent received him with open arms, and treated him with the tenderness and respect which were due to his character. His last station was Rhinebeck, N. Y., the residence of the late venerated Garrettson, and the scene of much of his active labors. Here, during the second year of his labors, he sickened and died. The last time he entered the pulpit he was assisted to the church, being too feeble to sustain himself, when he delivered his last, solemn message to the people of his charge.
After this he gradually sunk away into the arms of death, leaving behind him a consoling testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ, and of his preparedness, through the atoning merits, to meet his Judge and Redeemer. He left a widow, with two daughters and four sons, to mourn their loss, one of whom is in the itinerant ministry, and, it is hoped, may yet fill the vacuum occasioned by the death of his lamented father.
There were many excellences which clustered around the character of our beloved brother Merwin; and the high estimation in which he was held by the Church may be inferred from the important stations which he filled, as before enumerated. In the sacred Scriptures he was deeply read, and familiarly acquainted with their contents. At an early period of his ministry he adopted the method of consulting these records of our salvation in consecutive order, and continued the practice so long as he was able, reading two chapters, one in the Old and one in the New Testament, every morning before breakfast. By this commendable practice the words of the Holy Ghost were ever fresh in his memory, and hence his judgment was constantly tinder the clear light of those luminous pages, and his sermons interlarded with quotations in Scripture language. He did not, therefore, imitate the injudicious practice of those who substitute |profane babblings,| or the aphorisms of heathenism, for the words of inspiration, nor the dry metaphysics of the schools of human philosophy for the lofty and energetic language of inspired prophets and apostles.
As a preacher he was sometimes highly eloquent. His personal appearance was commanding, his voice clear and musical, his enunciation full and distinct, and with these qualifications; when fully inspired with his subject, he commanded profound attention, while he poured forth, in accents strong and persuasive, the streams of gospel truth with great power and effect. We cannot say that his sermons were characterized by that systematic arrangement and minute analysis, nor that profoundness of thought by which some others have been distinguished; but there as generally a glow of warmth which indicated a heart filled with the fire of divine love, and they were then delivered with a pathos and fluency with which none but Samuel Merwin could have delivered them under the same circumstances.
Sometimes, indeed, he failed. In this, however, he was by no means singular. For who that has had any experience in public speaking, especially in extemporaneous addresses, has not felt his mind at times barren, his utterance almost choked, as if it were next to impossible to make either the understanding, heart, or tongue play and perform its part? Whenever, however, he felt these embarrassments, he generally had a method of helping himself out of his difficulty by some innocent sally of wit, or by adverting incidentally to a topic somewhat foreign to the one under immediate consideration. At these times his ready wit betrayed him into eccentricities which seemed to detract a little from the dignity of the pulpit, while it relieved himself and his audience from an ennui [boredom -- DVM] which they mutually felt coming over them.
An instance of this sort occurred once while he was preaching a missionary sermon in the Allen Street church, in the city of New York. Feeling somewhat embarrassed in his mind, and perceiving that his congregation were inclining to a listlessness of spirit, he suddenly paused, and, calling to a preacher who was sitting in a slip in the body of the church, he said, |Brother B____, you must come up here and help me, for I cannot get along with this great subject.| The preacher replied, with the same freedom with which he had been addressed, |It is in good hands -- therefore go on and you will conquer.| This innocent artifice brought him out of the whirling eddies into which he had been carried, and, unfurling his sails, he gently glided off upon the sea of gospel truth, much to the satisfaction of all present.
To those who heard him often there appeared a sameness in some parts of his discourses, and more especially in his addresses, as if he had treasured up in his memory a set of phrases which he considered peculiarly adapted to the subject, and might therefore be often repeated, not only without weariness, but with good effect. The lively and energetic manner, however, in which he generally delivered himself, intermixed with sudden thoughts of inspiration, and all poured forth from a full heart in strains of gospel truth and persuasive eloquence, made ample amends for any defects arising from a repetition of the same thoughts, and sent the hearer home pleased with the speaker, and in love with his theme. I remember well that, when stationed in the city of New York, in 1830, he was called upon to preach a sermon in the Forsyth Street church, on the 4th of July, and a proposition to take up a collection in favor of the American Colonization Society had been declined by the trustees; -- on this occasion brother Merwin, warming with his subject, rising with the importance and grandeur of his theme, now soared away into the regions of bold thought and vivid imagination, and then melting into the tenderest strains of pathetic and impassioned eloquence, his hearers were alternately raised with expanded and elevated views of truth and duty, and overwhelmed with deep and softened emotions of joy, love, and gratitude. Such, indeed, was the power which he exerted over his audience, that he had them under complete command, and taking advantage of this state of feeling, he suddenly turned from his subject, and asked, |Shall we take a collection for the American Colonization Society?| The appeal was irresistible. |Yes! yes!| responded from every part of the house, and the trustees were compelled to reverse their own decision, and present the plates to receive the free-will offerings of the people, whose hearts had been made generous by the powerful appeals of the orator of the day. An acquaintance of mine, not a member of the Church, who was present, came to me and asked me to lend him a dollar; as he had no money with him, that he might put it in the plate. All were filled with rapture, and the more pleased for having an opportunity to let their alms accompany their prayers and praises. The amount of the collection told the rest.
Brother Merwin was a great friend and powerful advocate of all our institutions, such as missionary, Sunday school, and other charitable societies; and, while filling the office of a presiding elder on the New York district, exerted an effective influence in their favor by attending their respective boards of management, and otherwise promoting their benevolent objects. At their anniversaries he was often called to speak in their behalf, and he pleaded their cause with most powerful effect, and was always successful; by the playful manner in which he did it, in drawing money from the pockets of the people in their support.
I remember on one occasion, at an anniversary of the Missionary Society within the bounds of the Philadelphia conference, held in the city of Philadelphia during the session of the General Conference of 1832, he delivered an address, after two or three others had spoken, which electrified the congregation by one of those sudden bursts of eloquence for which he was famous, accompanied with a humorous allusion to the collection which was about to be made, and which might have been more highly appreciated had it been a little more grave. These sallies of wit, however, suited him better than they would others of a different turn of mind, because they seemed to come unsought, as the spontaneous effusions of a heart overflowing with feelings of kindness and brotherly affection.
The manner in which he deported himself toward some of his younger and less-informed brethren sometimes gave them offense. It had the appearance, as they thought, of a cold and haughty reserve, as if he thought them beneath his notice. A nearer approach, however, and a more intimate acquaintance, removed the unfavorable impression, and let him into your heart as a brother beloved. And to those who shared his confidence and won his affection, he unfolded himself with the utmost freedom and familiarity, making himself agreeable and edifying by humorous anecdotes and edifying incidents, which he delighted to detail. Of these he possessed a fund, and could easily make them contribute to the entertainment of a company by the lively manner in which he recited them. Such, indeed, were his imitative powers, that he could assume the voice and gestures, and mimic the tone and accent of any person with whom he had been conversant; be grave or comical to suit the nonce, or to give a true representation of the facts and incidents he wished to rehearse. And though he might have indulged his natural propensity too freely for his own and the good of others, yet he succeeded to admiration in rendering vice odious, in making folly appear ridiculous, and in exposing absurdity to its merited contempt; while at other times he clothed the excellences of the Christian character in those attractive charms which were calculated to with the affection of all who beheld them with a believing and impartial mind.
He has left a large circle of friends and acquaintances behind in the various places where he was stationed, who will no doubt readily recognize these traits in the character of Samuel Merwin; the mention of whose name revives those recollections of past days which the writer of this sketch enjoyed in common with many others, in the society of the friend of his youth, the companion of his riper years, and with whom he has often wept and rejoiced during the vicissitudes of an acquaintance in the ministry of nearly forty years. And this record is made with the more pleasure, because during that time nothing worth naming ever occurred to interrupt or mar for an hour a friendship begun in and cemented by Christian love, and kept up by mutual exchanges of fraternal regard and ministerial labors and sympathies. May this friendship be matured and perpetuated in heaven! So he it, O Lord, for Christ's sake!
|Death loves a shining mark.| This is poetry; and it may be true in its application to many individuals, and the more true in the imagination of those who mourn under the bereavement of near and valued friends; but we have a more infallible authority for saying that |the wicked shall not live out half their days.| The fact is, that death makes no distinction in its victims in respect to age, rank, sex, merit or demerit. All -- all are alike exposed to his ravages, and must, therefore, sooner or later, yield, however reluctantly, to his despotic sway.
But whatever may be the truth in this respect, death had hit a shining mark during the past year by shooting his deadly weapon into the heart of Wilbur Fisk, president of the Wesleyan University, and bishop elect of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
He was born in Brattleboro, in the state of Vermont, August 31, 1792. His juvenile days, after arriving at a suitable age, were spent at school, and he soon evinced an aptitude of mind to learn, by the progress he made in his elementary lessons of instruction. Though at the early age of twelve he gave evidence of a pious heart, yet while at the preparatory school, in which he was fitting for college, he gradually lost his serious impressions, and mingled with other thoughtless youth in the gayeties and amusements of the world. At the proper time he entered as a student in Burlington College, Vermont; but that institution being closed for a season while the late war was raging between this country and Great Britain, he was sent to Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, where he graduated, with equal honor to himself and satisfaction to his friends. He then commenced the study of law, under the instruction of a distinguished attorney; but the next year, 1816, he went to the city of Baltimore, and was employed as a private tutor in the family of a gentleman in that city, continuing, in the mean time, the study of the law. He was soon interrupted in these pursuits by a violent attack of a pulmonary disease, which so prostrated his physical powers that, under medical advice, he relinquished, for the time, all thought of any profession which would require any unusual exercise of his lungs.
Not being able to pursue his studies, nor to attend the duties of his vocation as tutor, as soon as his slowly returning health would permit he left Baltimore, and returned to the scenes of his early studies in Burlington, Vermont. But here he relapsed into his former disease, which for a while threatened his life. This sickness, however, by the mercy of God, was made subservient to his spiritual salvation, by reviving in his mind those religious impressions which had been effaced; and during a powerful awakening then spreading in Lyndon, Vermont, he was made a partaker of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This great change opened, not only new sources of enjoyment, but also new and enlarged subjects of contemplation, and finally led him into a field of labor for which he seemed designated by the divine Head of the Church. It was not long, therefore, before he began to exercise his gifts as a minister of Jesus Christ, and to give that evidence of his call to and qualification for the work, that led, in 1818, to his admission on trial in the New England conference. He commenced his itinerant labors among his own native hills in Vermont, inhaling the pure atmosphere, drinking the wholesome water, and enjoying the society of his Christian friends of his native state; in doing which, though often preaching, he measurably regained his health, and manifested great vigor of intellect and decision of character. From this place he was removed to Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Suffering a partial relapse into his former complaint, as might have been anticipated from his being confined in the station of Charlestown, at the close of his work in that place, in 1820, he was compelled to take a supernumerary relation. In 1823, however, he had so far recovered as to be able to resume his itinerant career, in the office of presiding elder over the Vermont district. Here, amidst the scenes of an itinerant life, traversing the hills and valleys of his native state again, deriving benefits from traveling constantly from place to place, and exercising his lungs in preaching as his strength would permit, he gradually regained his health, and was finally able to discharge the duties of his station with efficiency and success, to the great satisfaction of both preachers and people.
On the establishment of the Wilbraham Academy he was elected its principal, and was therefore compelled to remit the more healthy exercise of a traveling preacher; for the labor of superintending a school for the education and training of youth, preparatory to their entrance either upon the active duties of life; or as students into the higher seminaries of learning. Here he began more especially to unfold those moral and intellectual powers for which he was distinguished, and which he applied so usefully to his fellow-men the remaining days of his life. In this employment he continued, attending, in, the mean time, as a delegate, the General Conference of 1824 and 1828, until he was transferred to the presidency of the Wesleyan University, in 1831. Upon the duties of this station he entered with great ardor and intelligence, and succeeded in gaining for it a character which commanded the public confidence and affection.
Partly for the benefit of his health, and partly for the benefit of the university, in 1835 and 1836 he made the tour of Europe, an account of which he afterward published in a large octavo volume. Its merits may be estimated from the fact that it has run through several editions, has been read with great avidity by all classes of people, and is highly appreciated by the most intelligent portion of the community. While in Europe he was appointed, by the General Conference of 1836, its delegate to the Wesleyan Methodist Conference; which office he filled with. Honor to himself, and greatly to the satisfaction of his brethren on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same conference he was also elected a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church; but on his return to the United States he declined accepting the appointment, believing, in accordance with the views of many of his brethren, that the interests of the university had a more imperative claim upon his services, and that he could, therefore, more effectually promote the cause of God here than in the other high office to which he had been elected.
Very soon, however, the hopes of all were disappointed, in respect to his further usefulness to the Church militant, by his sickness and death. The pulmonary disease with which he had been afflicted, with less or more severity, now for about nineteen years, began to make rapid inroads upon his constitution, and he was compelled, in the winter of 1838, to remit his active duties and take to his bed, which proved, alas! his dying bed. His bodily sufferings were very severe and protracted. He bore them, however, with patience and fortitude, making them subservient to his more perfect ripeness for heavenly glory. His countenance, his words, and all his actions, on the bed of death, bespoke a soul full of glory and of God; and he left the most consoling evidence behind him of having finished his course with joy, and of having entered at last into the everlasting kingdom of his God.
Thus ended the days of Wilbur Fisk, D. D., and president of the Wesleyan University. His name will long be held in grateful and affectionate remembrance by those who had the happiness of his personal acquaintance, and by those who were benefited by his ministry and instructions.
The following sketch of the character of Dr. Fisk is taken from a funeral discourse which was delivered by the present writer, on the occasion of his death, and which was published at the request of those who heard it. After giving a short account of his life and death, the remarks which follow were added: --
1. His learning, though, perhaps, not so deep and thorough as that of some others, was nevertheless sound, various, and of the most useful character. He graduated with honor to himself in the Brown University, and was highly respected by his fellow-students and the faculty under whom he studied. And such was his love of letters in subsequent life that he held a distinguished rank among the literati of his country, and filled with high reputation the stations he occupied at the head of literary institutions.2. His religious experience was deep and genuine. This was fully evinced by the uniformity of his piety, the humility of his mind, and his ardent devotion to the cause of his divine Master. It was this also which created that inextinguishable thirst for the salvation f a lost world, which led him forth as a preacher of the gospel of Christ, as a powerful and fearless advocate of the cause of missions, temperance, and all those institutions of benevolence which aim at human melioration, or look to the universal spread of the gospel of the Son of God.
Though at an early period of his ministry he was called to preside over Institutions of learning, which officially confined him to a more limited sphere of action than that which was marked out by an itinerant ministry, yet he by no means circumscribed his labors to these narrow limits, but as opportunities presented, extended the sphere of his labors, in the pulpit and on the platform, wherever and whenever, so far as his time and strength would allow, calls were made for his services. And in these labors he was eminently useful, and his service were highly appreciated by all lovers of human improvement. He was therefore never |straitened in his own bowels,| but stretched the line of his labors in every direction, making his voice to be heard in favor of the cause of Christ, in all those diversities of operations by which the present age is distinguished for the diffusion of gospel light and love. In this work that fountain of divine grace which can be opened in the human heart only by a deep and genuine experience of the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, gushed out in the purest streams of the most charming eloquence, distilling |as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.|
His efforts to do good were limited only by his means. On a certain occasion he was heard to say, |As I have no children of my own to provide for, I feel it my duty to do all I can for the benefit of others.| Acting on this principle, he devoted all his energies of soul and body to the best interests of his fellow-men.
3.?Though deeply interested in the cause of education, yet he considered it only so far important as it was made subservient to the spiritual and eternal welfare of men. Having suffered much in his religious enjoyments while at the preparatory school and at college, on account of the irreligion which prevailed at these institutions at the time he was there, he was, when he came to feel the responsibility of his station, exceedingly solicitous to see seminaries of learning established and conducted strictly according to the principles of the gospel. Hence, when placed at the head of the university, as well as while principal of the Wilbraham Academy, he exerted all his powers to banish immorality and irreligion from their precincts, and bring the influence of Christianity, in its experimental and practical parts, to bear upon the students, and upon all concerned. And in this he succeeded even beyond what might have been expected.
The holy influence which was collected around the Wesleyan University, by the power of his precept and example, seconded as he was by his associates and the official board, was extensively felt on the surrounding population, and gave it a commanding character in the community, exempting it from these exceptions which have frequently been made, with too much truth, against literary institutions. The frequent revivals of religion, which were witnessed among the students, furnished an evidence to its friends that a college may be so conducted as to insure the blessings of God on its labors, and tended powerfully to impress upon the minds of all, the spiritual as well as literary benefit to be derived from placing their sons under the wing of the Wesleyan University. I may say indeed, with confidence, that on no department of God's vineyard has his Spirit been poured out more copiously, and the number of genuine converts been more numerous, in proportion to the population, than in this nursery of learning and religion.
How much the labors and example of its venerated president contributed to this happy result, those can testify who have borne witness to his assiduous attention to these things. The wisdom and fidelity with which he inculcated the truths of the gospel upon the minds of the students, and the fatherly manner in which he led the inquiring soul to Jesus Christ for pardon and salvation, and likewise rejoiced over the happy believer, attest the interest which he took in the spiritual as well as literary welfare of those intrusted to his care.
His invariable maxim was, that sanctified learning only can be useful to mankind. And acting on this maxim, he diffused through every circle in which he moved the hallowing influences of Christianity, exhibiting in his own temper and spirit the superior excellence and claim it has upon the hearts and homage of mankind.
4.?His talents as a preacher of the gospel were of a high order. He entered deeply and systematically into theological truth, and was thoroughly Wesleyan in his views of the gospel, and the methods of diffusing its blessings among mankind. Though never boisterous in his manner, but calm and collected, he was energetic, plain, and pointed, and evinced that he spoke from the fullness of his heart -- a heart thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his divine Master.
He was an original thinker. Though the field of theological truth has been so frequently surveyed, that little seems to be left for us to do but to follow on in the beaten track, yet it was evident that when Wilbur Fisk |occupied that holy place, the pulpit,| he thought and arranged for himself, and clothed his thoughts in language of his own selection, which, by its appropriateness, expressed what he wished to communicate in words plain, chaste, and classical. In him there was no ostentatious show of learning, though it was evident to all who heard him, with attention, that he was no stranger to literature and science.
His sermons were generally of a didactic character, and on this account might have appeared to those who did not fully enter into his views, and follow his chain of reasoning, somewhat dry and dull. His discourses, however, were far from being dull and monotonous. Though much accustomed to consecutive reasoning, to sustaining his propositions by logical deductions, yet his intimate appeal was to the Holy Scriptures; and often his addresses to the conscience were of that pungent character, and delivered with that flow of eloquence which made the sinner tremble, while he saw swept away all |his refuges of lies.| On one of these occasions, I remember to have heard him in this city, in the Forsyth Street church, when, after I laving substantiated the truth of his doctrine by apposite texts of Scripture, and a close chain of reasoning, he suddenly turned upon his audience, and commenced one of those eloquent and pathetic appeals, which poured upon them like a resistless torrent, and bore them away upon the stream of truth almost whether they would or not. A minister, sitting within the railing of the altar, found himself unconsciously extending his arms to snatch the sinner from his impending ruin, and to carry him to the Lord Jesus for salvation.
His manner in the pulpit was solemn, graceful, and dignified; his enunciation clear and impressive; and all his gesticulations corresponded to the purity and importance of the cause in which he was engaged. Perhaps, when unembarrassed, he came as near to the perfection of a Christian pulpit orator, as any that can be found among the ministers of the sanctuary. He never demeaned himself nor degraded the dignity of the place and the subject, by descending to quirks and witty sayings to tickle the fancy of the facetious, nor spoke with a view to produce a momentary effect, or to elicit the shout of applause. To this disgraceful finesse, so unbecoming the time, the place, the subject, and the end of preaching, Dr. Fisk never stooped; but his air was solemn, his attitude grave, his words sober, his arguments sound, and his entire object seemed to be to bring sinners to God, and to build believers up in all holy living.
5. Dr. Fisk wielded a powerful pen. The few printed sermons he has left behind him bespeak for him the sound divine, the able advocate of revealed truth, and the fearless defender of experimental and practical religion.
In his controversial writings and who can avoid controversy -- while he manfully combated error and defended what he considered the truth in a style of independence becoming the ambassador of Jesus Christ, he was respectful and courteous toward his antagonists.
Though it may he admitted that in some instances he was careless in stating his arguments, and not sufficiently guarded against the insidious attacks of some with whom he was called to contend, yet the acuteness of his intellect and the force of his genius were never more eminently displayed than in his Calvinistic Controversy, and in his Address to the Members of the New England Conference. He wrote, indeed, as one who believed what he put to paper, breathing into his sentences the inspiration of truth and sincerity, and pouring forth the streams of argument and illustration with that earnestness and logical precision which cannot but enlighten and convince the judgment.
Toward the close of his life he was engaged in a very delicate controversy, in conducting which he sometimes suffered no little reproach. Though Dr. Fisk was the last man who should have provoked reproachful language, yet he bore it with that meekness and submission which become the Christian minister, and finally testified on his dying bed, that, though he may have erred in some of his expressions, he was fully confirmed in the truth of his doctrines, as it was principle, not victory, for which he had contended.
We may therefore safely commend him as a writer for an example to others, and his writings as worthy of being read and had in remembrance.
6. Instead of towering above his fellows by an exhibition of any one talent of superior strength and brilliancy, in him were concentrated that cluster of excellences which constituted a nicely balanced mind, admirably adapted to the variety of calls which were made upon his time and abilities. This concentration of excellences created that symmetry of character which so beautifully displayed itself on all occasions, and so eminently fitted him to move in the various circles of usefulness in which he was called to exercise his gifts.
Though he may not have been so thoroughly versed as some others, who had devoted themselves more exclusively to any one department of literature, in metaphysics, in a knowledge of the languages, or in mathematical science yet he was sufficiently acquainted with these branches of knowledge to enable him to unravel the sophistry of error, to detect the fallacies of subtle antagonists, and to state and defend the truth with clearness and precision. With this well-balanced and well-disciplined mind, was combined that moral worth of character which at all times commanded respect and inspired confidence, and that fitted him for the various fields of usefulness in which he was called to labor. And in the exercise of these gifts, it was evident that he studied to be useful rather than great, though it is equally manifest that his greatness of character resulted from the usefulness of his life and labors.
7. But that which characterized Dr. Fisk among his fellows, and rendered him so eminently useful, was the deep vein of evangelical piety which ran through all his performances, and exerted a hallowing influence over his own mind and the minds of others. This, as I have before remarked, blended itself in his private studies, mingled in his social intercourse, graced and sanctified all his public administrations, whether in the pulpit, on the platform, or in the discharge of his duties as president of the university. And though no stranger to the weapon of satire, which he wielded sometimes with tremendous effect, yet it was manifest that the same hallowed end was had in view in the use of this sharp and dangerous weapon, as when he dealt in the more sober and dignified accents of direct truth and argument.
8. In his social intercourse he sweetly blended the meekness of the Christian and the gravity of the minister with the urbanity of the gentleman and the graces of the scholar. Though too conscientious and independent to compromise the truth from deference to the opinions of others, yet he always treated their judgment with becoming respect, and uttered his dissent with that modesty and diffidence which indicated a sense of his fallibility and sincere desire to know the right. To the common courtesies of life he was never inattentive, well knowing that Christianity distinguishes her children no less by the |gentleness| of their manners, and the delicate attentions to the niceties of relative duties, than she does by the sternness of her requirements in favor of purity of motive and conduct. He was therefore equally removed from that vulgar rudeness which marks the clown, and that disgusting familiarity which obtrudes itself, unasked and undesired, into the privacies of others. In him were united the delicacies of refined life, with the strong and unyielding principles of Christian integrity and ministerial gravity.
9. Though inspired with that spirit of Catholicism which embraces all denominations as constituting one Christian brotherhood, he was, nevertheless, cordially attached from principle to the doctrine, discipline, and usages of the Church to which he belonged, and of which he was such a distinguished ornament. Wesley he venerated as the first man of his age, as the greatest of modern reformers, as a sound divine, and as one of the most evangelical, laborious, and successful ministers of Jesus Christ. He fully believed that the doctrine and discipline of the Church Wesley was instrumental in founding in America were orthodox and Scriptural, and therefore admirably calculated to spread holiness and happiness through the land. Hence he labored indefatigably to promulgate its doctrine, to establish its government, and to extend its influence.
He loved the itinerant ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church. No more conclusive proof could he have given of this than he did, by adhering to it |through good and evil report,| so long as the Church called him to labor in that field; and when called by his brethren to a more restricted sphere of action, his official duties by no means deprived him of the privilege he prized so highly, of going forth as an itinerant minister in quest of the |lost sheep of the house of Israel.| He who might have commanded thousands of dollars, had he chosen to attach himself to another ministry, |chose rather to suffer affliction| with these comparatively poor |people of God,| |esteeming the reproach of Christ,| as borne by a Methodist itinerant, |greater riches than the treasures| he might have secured to himself in another department of ministerial labor. And though, after he accepted of the presidency of the Wesleyan University, he had a most luring offer, so far as pecuniary consideration was concerned, to take charge of another literary institution, yet he declined the honor because he loved that which bore the name of Wesley, from a hope that he could there more effectually build up Wesleyan Methodism, by training its sons in the principles and practice of that apostolic man, and because he had already pledged his best endeavors to promote its literary and religious interests. While therefore he gave the right hand of fellowship to ail, of every name, who |loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity,| he manifested his preference for the ministry and doctrines of his own Church, by cleaving to them to the end of his life.
10. It remains only that we look at him as the head of the Wesleyan University. Here he seemed to be the center of attraction to all connected with the institution, whether as professors, directors, or as students. His counsel was respected, his precepts observed, and his example considered worthy of the imitation of all. He ruled more from the love and respect which were felt and entertained for his character, than from a fear of his frown, though the latter was dreaded in exact proportion to the esteem felt for his exalted worth.
His inaugural address developed the principles on which the government of the university would be conducted; and the paternal manner in which these principles were practically in illustrated gave a character to the institution which secured the affection and commanded the respect of all interested in its prosperity; and perhaps no student ever left his Alma Mater without being impressed with a deep sense of his obligations to its president for the fatherly solicitude he had manifested in his literary, intellectual, and religious welfare.
Placed thus at the head of an institution which must tell for good or in on the destinies of so many immortal beings, he felt the responsibility of his station, and acted in view of that day when he must render an |account of his stewardship.| And such was the success with which he presided over the literary and religious interests of those committed to his oversight, and discharged the duties of the high trusts confided to him, that he inspired the respect and confidence, not only of those immediately connected with the university, but of the public at large, as well as those who held a kindred relation to similar institutions.
Hence his death is considered a loss to the entire community. The impression he was making upon the public mind generally was of the most favorable character; and the lamentations made on hearing the news of his death, and the tones of sympathy expressed by others than those connected with him in church fellowship, show that the community generally felt a lively interest in his welfare, and therefore sorrowed |most of all that they should see his face no more.|
Finally, we may say, that |whatsoever things were lovely, pure, and of good report,| in religion and morals, in learning and science, in spirit and conduct, were, in an eminent degree, concentrated in him, and, sweetly and harmoniously blending their united influence in his heart and life, gave a symmetry, a finish and polish to his character, worthy of love and admiration; and although as a human being he must have felt and exhibited the common infirmities of our nature, yet, having been disciplined by education, refined by grace, and improved by reading and extensive observation, he may be safely held up as an exemplar for the imitation of the Christian, and the minister of Jesus Christ, as well as those to whom are committed the interests of the youth of our land.
There are two other names I wish to mention before I close this volume; one because he was among the older class of Methodist preachers, and the other because he ranked among the younger; and also because they were both worthy of remembrance.
Smith Arnold was born in Middlebury, Conn., March 31, 1766, the year in which Methodism commenced its leavening influence in the city of New York, under the preaching of Embury, and the prayers of the few who accompanied him to this country. After his marriage and subsequent settlement in Herkimer county, N. Y., he was made a partaker of the grace of life, and commenced his itinerant career by joining the New York conference in the year 1800. The first year of his ministry he spent in the western part of New York state, then a new country, but rapidly filling with inhabitants. Here he had the happiness of seeing the blessed fruit of his labors in the awakening and conversion of souls. For twenty-one years he continued his efficient services in the itinerant field, often exposed to privations and hardships in the new and poorer settlements of western New York, and as often cheered by the manifestations of the power and goodness of God on his sincere endeavors to advance the cause of Christ.
At the end of this term he found himself so worn down by excessive labor, that he was obliged to take a supernumerary relation, and then a superannuated, in which he continued until his death, which happened on the 16th of March, 1839. His end was peace and assurance for ever.
Brother Arnold was a man of great simplicity of manners, a Methodist preacher of the old stamp, plain and pointed in his appeals to the conscience, though sometimes eccentric in some of his movements and phrases. His talents as a preacher were respectable, and he generally commanded the confidence and affection of the people among whom he labored; and when his death was announced, none doubted but that he had exchanged this for a better world.
Who is exempt from the ravages of death? Among those who had been taken from the walls of our Zion to the |Jerusalem which is above,| was John D. Bangs, son of the Rev. John Bangs, of the New York conference. Young, vigorous, pious, and amiable, he promised great usefulness to the Church, and much satisfaction to his numerous friends, had God seen fit to spare his life, and bless his endeavors.
He was born in the town of Kortwright, Delaware county, N. Y., May 7, 1813, and at the early age of fourteen was converted to God, and became a member of the Church. Growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and exhibiting a talent for preaching, he was duly authorized, according to the usages of the Church, and went on a circuit in 1835. His first labors were in a part of the country where his father and uncles were born, in the state of Connecticut, and he soon gave evidence of that devotion to the cause of God, and capacity to instruct others in the way of salvation, which won for him the confidence and the affection of his seniors in the ministry, and the people among whom he labored. Accordingly, in the spring of 1836 he was admitted on trial in the New York conference, and graduated in regular course to elder's orders.
But his race was short, and his death sudden and unexpected. On the 15th of July, 1838, his wife, with whom he had been united only about one year, but whose amiable virtues fitted her for a useful companion in adversity or prosperity, sickened and died. While attending at her grave, greatly exhausted with watching and anxiety, he was seized with the same disease, the scarlet fever, which had so recently deprived him of a beloved wife. Six days only after her death he was called to resign up his breath to God who gave it, and in whose praise it was employed while at his command. Thus, in the twenty-sixth year of his age, this young minister of Jesus Christ bid adieu to all earthly enjoyments, in sure and certain hope of everlasting life; and while his dust reposes by the side of his wife's, in the town of Yonkers, their spirits are doubtless rejoicing together before the throne of God in heaven.
John D. Bangs was characterized by deep humility, genuine piety, and amiability of manners, as well as thirst for the salvation of souls, which greatly endeared him to his friends and acquaintances, and made the pang of separation the more severe in some respects, and the more joyful in others, to his bereaved parents and circle of relatives.
Numbers in the Church: Whites This Year: 650,357; Last Year: 615,212; Increase: 35,145 -- Colored This Year: 89,197; Last Year: 79,236; Increase: 7,961 -- Indians This Year: 2,249; Last Year: 2,101; Increase: 148 -- Local Preachers This Year: 5,856; Last Year: 5,792; Increase: 64 -- Traveling Preachers This Year: 3,557; Last Year: 3,332; Increase: 235 -- Total This Year: 749,216; Last Year: 705,673 -- Increase: 43,553.