Thursday, December 31, 2009

Francis Asbury

The following excerpt is taken from Methodist Heroes of Other Days by Samuel Gardiner Ayres, first published in 1916. The electronic version of this work has been produced by the Holiness Data Ministry and is represented by the Wesley Center Online. The entire work can be read there or purchased in CD format.


Chapter 1


An English lad, whose principal "foible" was a love of play, and whose young apprentice manhood was pure and good, showed no particular sign that he was to act the great part which he did in later life. When but a mere lad he began to preach in England. He was not as closely attentive to his duties as he should have been, as is witnessed by a letter of reprimand written to him, and still preserved.

When only a little past twenty-six years of age he voluntarily left his native land and came to America and became a true American. From then on to the end of his career his was a life filled with pain and suffering. No year passed without his having a hurt or ailment of some sort. Sometimes he had to be lifted on and off his horse and put to bed like a child. At other times, with little strength to spare, he sat in his chair and preached to a small or a large congregation. He addressed a dozen or five thousand, as opportunity offered.

In 1772 Wesley appointed this handicapped young man of twenty-seven the superintendent of all the churches in America. He was only one of nine preachers, and there were only three hundred and sixteen members in all the American colonies, and so it did not seem such a great undertaking; but before John Wesley died he became almost jealous of Francis Asbury, so great had the work grown to be. When Francis Asbury died there were no less than six hundred preachers and two hundred and fourteen thousand members.

We have mentioned the personal physical hindrances which were always a thorn in the flesh. To these we must add the times of discouragement, which must come to every sick man. He had his sleepless nights over the state of the church, the debt on Cokesbury College, the indifference of the people, and the backslidden state of many members. He toiled over bad roads in winter, cold and heat, snow and rain, through swamps and over mountains, making the rounds of the Conferences and charges. At the beginning his tours extended to two thousand miles a year, and later they exceeded five thousand miles and even reached six thousand miles in eight months. He visited the South thirty times in thirty-one years. In some sections the houses were filthy and the fare poor. He shared the poverty of the people or enjoyed being entertained "like a President."

He and his companion frequently rode twenty-five, thirty, and even thirty-five miles in a day without food for man or beast. "I find it hard to ride eight or nine hours without any other nourishment but a little bread and tea," he remarks; but on one occasion he returns thanks over a handful of nuts, and on another over a crust of bread for two. He tells how he enjoyed some potato and bacon after a ride of twenty-seven miles without food. On one occasion the lunch was a peach pie. Of course he was tired. He records in his Journal: "Rest, rest, how sweet! Yet how often in labor I rest, and in rest labor!" After a hard ride of three days he records a poor time in preaching. He earned it. Sometimes he slept on the ground in the woods without even a tent over him, or, again, on the floor in a log cabin on a deerskin filled with fleas. He was glad when he had a bed, even if the snow or the rain came through the broken, leaking roof. He was sometimes obliged to associate with drunken and profane men. He was in dangers oft, yet he never ceased to do his duty, and his everlasting cry was for the souls of men, and no pain he had was so great as the heartache caused by the fall of a member of the flock.

His prayers as recorded in his Journal would make a book. One has a particularly pathetic note: "Lord, remember Francis Asbury in all his labors and afflictions." And who shall say that this prayer was not answered? So often he records his belief in a Divine Providence: "I can say hitherto the Lord hath helped us through deeps, deserts, dangers, and distresses. I have told but a small part of our labors and sufferings; let the great day of eternity reveal the rest." But this was only the setting for a life in which many hours were sweet and happy in praise and service: "O what sweetness I feel as I steal along through the solitary woods! I am sometimes ready to shout aloud and make all vocal with the praises of His grace who died, and lives and intercedes for me." "I have suffered much -- I am pained and sore, and poor Jane stumbled so often! but my limbs and my soul are safe. Glory! Glory!" "The prospects of doing good are glorious." "I groan one minute with pain, and shout glory the next." "The Lord was my helper and my mind was in peace." "I began and ended the day with God." There are other references, which might be quoted, showing the sweetness of his soul. All the time he was seeking the best and highest experience, and he finally found it in 1803: "My mind is in a great calm after the tumult of the Baltimore Conference . . . in addition to the charge of the superintendency to feel and to live in perfect love."

Only the year before his translation he said: "My mind enjoys great peace, and divine consolation. My health is better, but whether health, life, or death, good is the will of the Lord. I will trust him and will praise him. He is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. Glory! Glory! Glory!" And this he said when he resigned to younger hands the burdens of his work, but he ceased not to toil until the last. He preached his last sermon in Richmond, Virginia, March 24, 1816, from the text: "For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth." He sat on a table prepared for him and preached for nearly an hour "with much feeling." He was carried from the church to his carriage. It is not the end of his journey, for he travels Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. He came to the home of Mr. George Arnold and rested on Saturday, and on Sunday, the 31st day of March, 1816, he took his last long journey to the land of rest.

His legacy was a great one -- a life filled with toil and sacrifice, not devoid of faults, 'tis true, but ever striving for the best. He traveled about one hundred and fifty thousand miles in the thirty-seven years of his life as bishop, preached more than nineteen thousand times, ordained, appointed, and loved one thousand ministers, served four generations of laymen, winning fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for the kingdom of God. The number he won for the kingdom can never be told. He was the real founder of the Methodist Episcopal Church of America, and to him and his care it owes more than we can record. His triumph never ends.