300,000 miles on horseback, from the Atlantic to the Appalachians, from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, for 45 years, he spread the Gospel.
This was Francis Asbury, Methodist Circuit riding preacher who was born AUGUST 20, 1745.
In 1771, John Wesley sent Francis Asbury, age of 26, to minister to the Methodist Anglicans in America.
When the Revolution began, Asbury was the only Methodist Anglican minister to remain in America, refusing to return with other Anglican ministers to England, stating:
“I can by no means agree to leave such a field for gathering souls to Christ as we have in America.”
Francis Asbury preached over 16,000 sermons, in churches and town squares, on the steps of courthouses, to workers in the fields or in tobacco houses, traveling an average of 6,000 miles a year.
Asbury’s leadership resulted in the Methodist Church in America growing from 1,200 people to 214,000 with 700 ordained minsters.
Prior to the Revolution, Anglican churches were in most colonies, being established the official state church in:
Virginia in 1609;
New York in 1693;
Maryland in 1702;
South Carolina in 1706;
North Carolina in 1730; and
Georgia in 1758.
As the King of England was the head of the Anglican Church, when the Revolution began, Anglican pastors faced a crisis of conscience, having to choose between obeying the King or siding with American independence.
Several American colonies even made it an act of treason for pastors to continued to say public prayers for the King.
In 1784, 81-year-old John Wesley appointed Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke to oversee the Methodist revival movement in the America.
In 1784, Rev. Samuel Seabury of Connecticut sought consecration as an Anglican bishop but could not take the Oath of Supremacy to the King. When bishops in Scotland agreed to consecrate Seabury, it would be the beginning of Episcopal Church in America.
In 1785, Bishop Seabury began ordaining ministers in Connecticut.
Also in 1785, Francis Asbury separated the Methodist movement away from the Anglican-Episcopal Church to form its own denomination – the Methodist Church.
This had tremendous political impact in Virginia as the Anglican Church had been the officially established state church.
In 1786, involved in a war of independence from the King, the Virginia Assembly was faced with the decision as to whether or not they should vote to replace the established Anglican Church with the new Episcopal Church, or to disestablish altogether having an official state church.
With Francis Asbury having separated the Methodist movement from the Anglican-Episcopal Church the year before, their were not enough Episcopal votes in the Virginia legislature, so the state church was disestablished, thereby allowing other denominations to be treated equally.
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer was rewritten to be the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
In 1786, the British Parliament responded by passing the Consecration of Bishops Abroad Act, allowing in 1787 for Anglican Archbishops in England to consecrated as William White of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost of New York as bishops in America.
In 1789, clergy met in Philadelphia to ratify the initial constitution of the Episcopal Church in America as formally separated from the Church of England so that clergy did not have to take the oath of supremacy of the King.
The fourth Episcopal bishop in America, and the first in Virginia, was James Madison, the cousin of fellow Virginian James Madison, the fourth U.S. President.
Bishop Francis Asbury befriended Richard Bassett, a signer of the U.S. Constitution. Bassett converted to being a Methodist, freed his slaves, paid them as hired labor and rode joyfully with them to revival meetings.
As America’s first two Methodist Bishops, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke met with newly elected President George Washington in New York, delivering the message, May 19, 1789:
“We…express to you…our sincere congratulations, on your appointment to the presidentship of these States.
We…place as full a confidence in your wisdom and integrity, for the preservation of those civil and religious liberties which have been transmitted to us by the Providence of GOD…
Dependence on the Great Governor of the Universe which you have repeatedly expressed, acknowledging Him the source of every blessing, and particularly of the most excellent Constitution of these States, which is at present the admiration of the world…”
Bishop Asbury continued:
“We enjoy a holy expectation that you will always prove a faithful and impartial patron of genuine, vital religion – the grand end of our creation and present probationary existence…
We promise you our fervent prayers to the Throne of Grace, that GOD Almighty may endue you with all the graces and gifts of his Holy Spirit, that may enable you to fill up your important station to His glory.”
On May 29, 1789, President Washington wrote a reply:
“To the Bishops of the Methodist-Episcopal Church…
I return to you…my thanks for the demonstrations of affection and the expressions of joy…on my late appointment.
It shall still be my endeavor…to contribute…towards the preservation of the civil and religious liberties of the American people…
I hope, by the assistance of Divine Providence, not altogether to disappoint the confidence which you have been pleased to repose in me…in acknowledgments of homage to the Great Governor of the Universe…”
“I trust the people of every denomination…will have every occasion to be convinced that I shall always strive to prove a faithful and impartial patron of genuine, vital religion…
I take in the kindest part the promise you make of presenting your prayers at the Throne of Grace for me, and that I likewise implore the Divine benediction on yourselves and your religious community.”
In 1799, Francis Asbury ordained the first African-American Methodist minister, Richard Allen, and dedicated the first African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Francis Asbury’s carriage driver was “Black Harry” Hosier. Though illiterate, Hosier listened to Francis Asbury’s sermons and memorized long passages of Scripture.
“Black Harry” Hosier became one of the country’s most popular preachers, drawing crowds in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Boston, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore and New York. He rejected slavery, lifted up the common working man, and charged audiences “that they must be holy.”
His popularity gave birth to the name “Hoosier” being used to refer to persons of humble birth who firmly held Bible values, as the settlers who crossed the Ohio River to the Indiana shore.
President Calvin Coolidge unveiled an Equestrian Statue of Francis Asbury in Washington, D.C., 1924, stating:
“Francis Asbury, the first American Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church…made a tremendous contribution…”
“Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberty, and for the rights of mankind.
Unless the people believe in these principles they cannot believe in our government…
Calling the people to righteousness (was) a direct preparation for self-government. It was for a continuation of this work that Francis Asbury was raised up…”
“The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man…
Real reforms which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all. Peace, justice, humanity, charity – these cannot be legislated into being. They are the result of a Divine Grace…”
Coolidge continued about Francis Asbury:
“Frontier mothers must have brought their children to him to receive his blessings!
It is more than probable that Nancy Hanks, the mother of Lincoln, had heard him in her youth.
Adams and Jefferson must have known him, and Jackson must have seen in him a flaming spirit as unconquerable as his own…
He is entitled to rank as one of the builders of our nation.
On the foundation of a religious civilization which he sought to build, our country has enjoyed greater blessing of liberty and prosperity than was ever before the lot of man.
These cannot continue if we neglect the work which he did.”
“We cannot depend on the government to do the work of religion.
I do not see how anyone could recount the story of this early Bishop without feeling a renewed faith in our own country.”
The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s bookshere.
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