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CLOSE OF THE COLONIAL ERA—THE GERMAN CHURCHES—THE BEGINNINGS OF THE METHODIST CHURCH.
THE quickening of religious feeling, the deepening of religious conviction, the clearing and defining of theological opinions, that were incidental to the Great Awakening, were a preparation for more than thirty years of intense political and warlike agitation. The churches suffered from the long distraction of the public mind, and at the end of it were faint and exhausted. But for the infusion of a “more abundant life” which they had received, it would seem that they could hardly have survived the stress of that stormy and revolutionary period.
The religious life of this period was manifested in part in the growth of the New England theology. The great leader of this school of theological inquiry, the elder Edwards, was born at the opening of the eighteenth century. The oldest and most eminent of his disciples and successors, Bellamy and Hopkins, were born respectively in 1719 and 1721, and entered into the work of the Awakening in the flush of their earliest manhood. A long dynasty of acute and strenuous argumentators has continued, through successive generations to the present day, this distinctly American school of theological thought. This is not the 182place for tracing the intricate history of their discussions,117117 See G. P. Fisher, “History of Christian Doctrine,” pp. 394-418; also E. A. Park in the “Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia,” vol. iii., pp. 1634-38. The New England theology is not so called as being confined to New England. Its leading “improvements on Calvinism” were accepted by Andrew Fuller and Robert Hall among the English Baptists, and by Chalmers of the Presbyterians of Scotland. but the story of the Awakening could not be told without some mention of this its attendant and sequel.
Not less notable than the new theology of the revival was the new psalmody. In general it may be said that every flood-tide of spiritual emotion in the church leaves its high-water mark in the form of “new songs to the Lord” that remain after the tide of feeling has assuaged. In this instance the new songs were not produced by the revival, but only adopted by it. It is not easy for us at this day to conceive the effect that must have been produced in the Christian communities of America by the advent of Isaac Watts’s marvelous poetic work, “The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.” Important religious results have more than once followed in the church on the publication of religious poems—notably, in our own century, on the publication of “The Christian Year.” But no other instance of the kind is comparable with the publication in America of Watts’s Psalms. When we remember how scanty were the resources of religious poetry in American homes in the early eighteenth century, and especially how rude and even grotesque the rhymes that served in the various churches as a vehicle of worship, it seems that the coming of those melodious stanzas, in which the meaning of one poet is largely interpreted by the sympathetic insight of another poet, and the fervid devotion of the Old Testament is informed with the life and transfigured in the language of the New, must have been like a glow of sunlight breaking 183in upon a gray and cloudy day. Few pages of biography can be found more vividly illustrative of the times and the men than the page in which Samuel Hopkins recites the story of the sufferings of his own somber and ponderous mind under the rebuke of his college friend David Brainerd. He walked his solitary room in tears, and (he says) “took up Watts’s version of the Psalms, and opened it at the Fifty-first Psalm, and read the first, second, and third parts in long meter with strong affections, and made it all my own language, and thought it was the language of my heart to God.” There was more than the experience of a great and simple soul, there was the germ of a future system of theology, in the penitential confession which the young student “made his own language,” and in the exquisite lines which, under the figure of a frightened bird, became the utterance of his first tremulous and faltering faith:
Lord, should thy judgment grow severe,
I am condemned, but thou art clear.
Should sudden vengeance seize my breath,
I must pronounce thee just in death;
And if my soul were sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well.
Yet save a trembling sinner, Lord,
Whose hope, still hovering round thy word,
Would light on some sweet promise there,
Some sure support against despair.
The introduction of the new psalmody was not accomplished all at once, nor without a struggle. But we gravely mistake if we look upon the controversy that resulted in the adoption of Watts’s Psalms as a mere conflict between enlightened good taste and stubborn conservatism. The action proposed was revolutionary. It involved the surrender of a long-settled principle of Puritanism. At 184the present day the objection to the use of “human composures” in public worship is unintelligible, except to Scotchmen. In the later Puritan age such use was reckoned an infringement on the entire and exclusive authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures, and a constructive violation of the second commandment. By the adoption of the new psalmody the Puritan and Presbyterian churches, perhaps not consciously, but none the less actually, yielded the major premiss of the only argument by which liturgical worship was condemned on principle. Thereafter the question of the use of liturgical forms became a mere question of expediency. It is remarkable that the logical consequences of this important step have been so tardy and hesitating.
It was not in the common course of church history that the period under consideration should be a period of vigorous internal activity and development in the old settled churches of America. The deep, often excessive, excitements of the Awakening had not only ceased, but had been succeeded by intense agitations of another sort. Two successive “French and Indian” wars kept the long frontier, at a time when there was little besides frontier to the British colonies, in continual peril of fire and scalping-knife.118118 Of what sort was the life of a church and its pastor in those days is illustrated in extracts from the journal of Samuel Hopkins, the theologian, pastor at Great Barrington, given in the Memoir by Professor Park, pp. 40-43. The Sabbath worship was disturbed by the arrival of warlike news. The pastor and the families of his flock were driven from their homes to take refuge in blockhouses crowded with fugitives. He was gone nearly three months of fall and winter with a scouting party of a hundred whites and nineteen Indians in the woods. He sent off the fighting men of his town with sermon and benediction on an expedition to Canada. During the second war he writes to his friend Bellamy (1754) of a dreadful rumor that “good Mr. Edwards” had perished in a massacre at Stockbridge. This rumor was false, but he adds: On the Lord’s day P.M., as I was reading the psalm, news came that Stockbridge was beset by an army of Indians, and on fire, which broke up the assembly in an instant. All were put into the utmost consternation—men, women, and children crying, ‘What shall we do?’ Not a gun to defend us, not a fort to flee to, and few guns and little ammunition in the place. Some ran one way and some another; but the general course was to the southward, especially for women and children. Women, children, and squaws presently flocked in upon us from Stockbridge, half naked and frighted almost to death; and fresh news came that the enemy were on the plains this side Stockbridge, shooting and killing and scalping people as they fled. Some presently came along bloody, with news that they saw persons killed and scalped, which raised a consternation, tumult, and distress inexpressible.” The astonishingly sudden and complete extinction 185of the French politico-religious empire in Canada and the West made possible, and at no remote time inevitable, the separation of the British colonies from the mother country. and the contentions and debates that led into the Revolutionary War began at once.
Another consequence of the prostrating of the French power in America has been less noticed by historians, but the course of this narrative will not be followed far without its becoming manifest as not less momentous in its bearing on the future history of the church. The extinction of the French- Catholic power in America made possible the later plantation and large and free development of the Catholic Church in the territory of the United States. After that event the Catholic resident or citizen was no longer subject to the suspicion of being a sympathizer with a hostile neighboring power, and the Jesuit missionary was no longer liable to be regarded as a political intriguer and a conspirator with savage assassins against the lives of innocent settlers and their families. If there are those who, reading the earlier pages of this volume, have mourned over the disappointment and annihilation of two magnificent schemes of Catholic domination on the North American continent as being among the painful mysteries of divine providence, they may find compensation for these catastrophes in later advances of Catholicism, which without these antecedents would seem to have been hardly possible.186
Although the spiritual development of the awakened American churches, after the Awakening until the independence of the States was established and acknowledged, was limited by these great hindrances, this period was one of momentous influences from abroad upon American Christianity.
The Scotch-Irish immigration kept gathering volume and force. The great stream of immigrants entering at the port of Philadelphia and flowing westward and southwestward was joined by a tributary stream entering at Charleston. Not only the numbers of this people, occupying in force the hill-country from Pennsylvania to Georgia, but still more its extraordinary qualities and the discipline of its history, made it a factor of prime importance in the events of the times just before and just after the achievement of the national independence. For generations it had been schooled to the apprehension and acceptance of an elaborately articulated system of theology and church order as of divine authority. Its prejudices and animosities were quite as potent as its principles. Its fixed hereditary aversion to the English government and the English church was the natural fruit of long memories and traditions of outrages inflicted by both these; its influence was now about to be powerfully manifested in the overthrow of the English power and its feeble church establishments in the colonies. At the opening of the War of Independence the Presbyterian Church, reunited since the schism of 1741, numbered one hundred and seventy ministers in seventeen presbyteries; but its weight of influence was out of all proportion to its numbers, and this entire force, not altogether at unity with itself on ecclesiastical questions, was united as one man in the maintenance of American rights.187
The great German immigration begins to flow in earnest in this period. Three successive tides of migration have set from Germany to America. The first was the movement of the petty sects under the invitation and patronage of William Penn, quartering themselves in the eastern parts of Pennsylvania. The second was the transportation of “the Palatines,” expatriated by stress of persecution and war, not from the Rhenish Palatinate only, but from the archduchy of Salzburg and from other parts of Germany and Switzerland, gathered up and removed to America, some of them directly, some by way of England, as an act of political charity by Queen Anne’s government, with the idea of strengthening the colonies by planting Protestant settlers for a safeguard against Spanish or French aggressions. The third tide continues flowing, with variable volume, to this day. It is the voluntary flow of companies of individual emigrants seeking to better the fortunes of themselves or their families. But this voluntary migration has been unhealthily and sometimes dishonestly stimulated, from the beginning of it, by the selfish interests of those concerned in the business of transportation or in the sale of land. It seems to have been mainly the greed of shipping merchants, at first, that spread abroad in the German states florid announcements of the charms and riches of America, decoying multitudes of ignorant persons to risk everything on these representations, and to mortgage themselves into a term of slavery until they should have paid the cost of their passage by their labor. This class of bondmen, called “redemptioners,” made no inconsiderable part of the population of the middle colonies; and it seems to have been a worthy part. The trade of “trepanning” the unfortunates and transporting them and selling their term of service was not by several degrees as bad as the African slave-trade; but 188it was of the same sort, and the deadly horrors of its “middle passage” were hardly less.
In one way and another the German immigration had grown by the middle of the eighteenth century to great dimensions. In the year 1749 twelve thousand Germans landed at the port of Philadelphia. In general they were as sheep having no shepherd. Their deplorable religious condition was owing less to poverty than to diversity of sects.119119 Jacobs, “The Lutherans,” pp. 191, 234; Dobbs, “German Reformed Church,” p. 271. In many places the number of sects rendered concerted action impossible, and the people remained destitute of religious instruction.
The famine of the word was sorely felt. In 1733 three great Lutheran congregations in Pennsylvania, numbering five hundred families each, sent messengers with an imploring petition to their correligionists at London and Halle, representing their “state of the greatest destitution.” “Our own means” (they say) “are utterly insufficient to effect the necessary relief, unless God in his mercy may send us help from abroad. It is truly lamentable to think of the large numbers of the rising generation who know not their right hand from their left; and, unless help be promptly afforded, the danger is great that, in consequence of the great lack of churches and schools, the most of them will be led into the ways of destructive error.”
This urgent appeal bore fruit like the apples of Sodom. It resulted in a painful and pitiable correspondence with the chiefs of the mother church, these haggling for months and years over stipulations of salary, and refusing to send a minister until the salary should be pledged in cash; and their correspondents pleading their poverty and need.120120 See extracts from the correspondence given by Dr. Jacobs, pp. 193-195. Dr. Jacobs’s suggestion that three congregations of five hundred families each might among them have raised the few hundreds a year required seems reasonable, unless a large number of these were families of redemptioners, that is, for the time, slaves. 189The few and feeble churches of the Reformed confession were equally needy and ill befriended.
It seems to us, as we read the story after the lapse of a hundred and fifty years, as if the man expressly designed and equipped by the providence of God for this exigency in the progress of his kingdom had arrived when Zinzendorf, the Moravian, made his appearance at Philadelphia, December 10, 1741. The American church, in all its history, can point to no fairer representative of the charity that “seeketh not her own” than this Saxon nobleman, who, for the true love that he bore to Christ and all Christ’s brethren, was willing to give up his home, his ancestral estates, his fortune, his title of nobility, his patrician family name, his office of bishop in the ancient Moravian church, and even (last infirmity of zealous spirits) his interest in promoting specially that order of consecrated men and women in the church catholic which he had done and sacrificed so much to save from extinction, and to which his “cares and toils were given.” He hastened first up the Lehigh Valley to spend Christmas at Bethlehem, where the foundations had already been laid on which have been built up the half-monastic institutions of charity and education and missions which have done and are still doing so much to bless the world in both its hemispheres. It was in commemoration of this Christmas visit of Bishop Zinzendorf that the mother house of the Moravian communities in America received its name of Bethlehem. Returning to Philadelphia, he took this city as the base of his unselfish and unpartisan labors in behalf of the great and multiplying population from his fatherland, which through its sectarian divisions had become so helpless and spiritually needy. Already for 190twenty years there had been a few scattering churches of the Reformed confession, and for half that time a few Lutheran congregations had been gathered or had gathered themselves. But both the sects had been overcome by the paralysis resulting from habitual dependence on paternal governments, and the two were borne asunder, while every right motive was urging to coöeration and fellowship, by the almost spent momentum of old controversies. In Philadelphia two starveling congregations representing the two competing sects occupied the same rude meeting-place each by itself on alternate Sundays. The Lutherans made shift without a pastor, for the only Lutheran minister in Pennsylvania lived at Lancaster, sixty miles away.
To the scattered, distracted, and demoralized flocks of his German fellow-Christians in the middle colonies came Zinzendorf, knowing Jesus Christ crucified, knowing no man according to the flesh; and at once “the neglected congregations were made to feel the thrill of a strong religious life.” “Aglow with zeal for Christ, throwing all emphasis in his teaching upon the one doctrine of redemption through the blood shed on Calvary, all the social advantages and influence and wealth which his position gave him were made subservient to the work of preaching Christ, and him crucified, to the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant.”121121 Jacobs, “The Lutherans,” p. 196. The story of Zinzendorf, as seen from different points of view, may be studied in the volumes of Drs. Jacobs, Dubbs, and Hamilton (American Church History Series). The Lutherans of Philadelphia heard him gladly and entreated him to preach to them regularly; to which he consented, but not until he had assured himself that this would be acceptable to the pastor of the Reformed congregation. But his mission was to the sheep scattered abroad, of whom he reckoned (an extravagant overestimate) not less than one hundred 191thousand of the Lutheran party in Pennsylvania alone. Others, as he soon found, had been feeling, like himself, the hurt of the daughter of Zion. A series of conferences was held from month to month, in which men of the various German sects took counsel together over the dissensions of their people, and over the question how the ruinous effects of these dissensions could be avoided. The plan was, not to attempt a merger of the sects, nor to alienate men from their habitual affiliations, but to draw together in coöeration and common worship the German Christians, of whatever sect, in a fellowship to be called, in imitation of a Pauline phrase (Eph. ii. 22), “the Congregation of God in the Spirit.” The plan seemed so right and reasonable and promising of beneficent results as to win general approval. It was in a fair way to draw together the whole miserably divided German population.122122 Acrelius, quoted by Jacobs, p. 218, note.
At once the “drum ecclesiastic” beat to arms. In view of the impending danger that their scattered fellow-countrymen might come into mutual fellowship on the basis of their common faith in Christ, the Lutheran leaders at Halle, who for years had been dawdling and haggling over the imploring entreaties of the shepherdless Lutheran populations in America, promptly reconsidered their non possumus, and found and sent a man admirably qualified for the desired work, Henry Melchior Mühlenberg, a man of eminent ability and judgment, of faith, devotion, and untiring diligence, not illiberal, but a conscientious sectarian. An earnest preacher of the gospel, he was also earnest that the gospel should be preached according to the Lutheran formularies, to congregations organized according to the Lutheran discipline. The easier and less worthy part of the appointed task was soon achieved. The danger that the religious factions that had divided 192Germany might be laid aside in the New World was effectually dispelled. Six years later the governor of Pennsylvania was still able to write, “The Germans imported with them all the religious whimsies of their country, and, I believe, have subdivided since their arrival here;” and he estimates their number at three fifths of the population of the province. The more arduous and noble work of organizing and compacting the Lutherans into their separate congregations, and combining these by synodical assemblies, was prosecuted with wisdom and energy, and at last, in spite of hindrances and discouragements, with beneficent success. The American Lutheran Church of to-day is the monument of the labors of Mühlenberg.
The brief remainder of Zinzendorf’s work in America may be briefly told. There is no- doubt that, like many another eager and hopeful reformer, he overestimated the strength and solidity of the support that was given to his generous and beneficent plans. At the time of Mühlenberg’s arrival Zinzendorf was the elected and installed pastor of the Lutheran congregation in Philadelphia. The conflict could not be a long one between the man who claimed everything for his commission and his sect and the man who was resolved to insist on nothing for himself. Notwithstanding the strong love for him among the people, Zinzendorf was easily displaced from his official station. When dispute arose about the use of the empty carpenter’s shop that stood them instead of a church, he waived his own claims and at his own cost built a new house of worship. But it was no part of his work to stay and persist in maintaining a division. He retired from the field, leaving it in charge of Muhlenberg, “being satisfied if only Christ were preached,” and returned to Europe, having achieved a truly honorable and most Christian failure, more to be esteemed in the sight of God than many a splendid success.193
But his brief sojourn in America was not without visible fruit. He left behind him the Moravian church fully organized under the episcopate of Bishop David Nitschmann, with communities or congregations begun at nine different centers, and schools established in four places. An extensive itinerancy had been set in operation under careful supervision, and, most characteristic of all, a great beginning had been made of those missions to the heathen Indians, in which the devoted and successful labors of this little society of Christians have put to shame the whole American church besides. Not all of this is to be ascribed to the activity of Zinzendorf; but in all of it he was a sharer, and his share was a heroic one. The two years’ visit of Count Zinzendorf to America forms a beautiful and quite singular episode in our church history. Returning, to his ancestral estates splendidly impoverished by his free-handed beneficence, he passed many of the later years of his life at Herrnhut, that radiating center from which the light of the gospel was borne by the multitude of humble missionaries to every continent under the whole heaven. The news that came to him from the “economies” that he had planted in the forests of Pennsylvania was such as to fill his generous soul with joy. In the communities of Nazareth and Bethlehem was renewed the pentecostal consecration when no man called anything his own. The prosperous farms and varied industries, in which no towns in Pennsylvania could equal them, were carried on, not for private interest, but for the church. After three years the community work was not only self-supporting, but sustained about fifty missionaries in the field, and was preparing to send aid to the missions of the mother church in Germany. The Moravian settlements multiplied at distant points, north and south. The educational establishments grew strong and famous. But especially the 194missions spread far and wide. The story of these missions is one of the fairest and most radiant pages in the history of the American church, and one of the bloodiest. Zinzendorf, dying at London in May, 1756, was spared, we may hope, the heartbreaking news of the massacre at Gnadenhütten the year before. But from that time on, through the French wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and down to the infamy of Georgia and the United States in 1837, the innocent and Christlike Moravian missions have been exposed from every side to the malignity of savage men both white and red. No order of missionaries or missionary converts can show a nobler roll of martyrs than the Moravians.123123 Jacobs, “The Lutherans,” pp. 215-218; Hamilton, “The Moravians,” chaps. iii.-viii., xi.
The work of Mühlenberg for the Lutherans stimulated the Reformed churches in Europe to a like work for their own scattered and pastorless sheep. In both cases the fear that the work of the gospel might not be done seemed a less effective incitement to activity than the fear that it might be done by others. It was the Reformed Church of Holland, rather than those of Germany, miserably broken down and discouraged by ravaging wars, that assumed the main responsibility for this task. As early as 1728 the Dutch synods had earnestly responded to the appeal of their impoverished brethren on the Rhine in behalf of the sheep scattered abroad. And in 1743, acting through the classis of Amsterdam, they had made such progress toward beginning the preliminary arrangements of the work as to send to the Presbyterian synod of Philadelphia a proposal to combine into one the Presbyterian, or Scotch Reformed, the Dutch Reformed, and the German Reformed churches in America. It had already been proved impossible to draw together in common activity 195and worship the different sects of the same German race and language; the effort to unite in one organization peoples of different language, but of substantially the same doctrine and polity, was equally futile. It seemed as if minute sectarian division and subdivision was to be forced upon American Christianity as a law of its church life.
Diplomacies ended, the synods of Holland took up their work with real munificence. Large funds were raised, sufficient to make every German Reformed missionary in America a stipendiary of the classis of Amsterdam; and if these subsidies were encumbered with severe conditions of subordination to a foreign directory, and if they begot an enfeebling sense of dependence, these were necessary incidents of the difficult situation—res dura et novitas regni. The most important service which the synods of Holland rendered to their American beneficiaries was to find a man who should do for them just the work which Mühlenberg was already doing with great energy for the Lutherans. The man was Michael Schlatter. If in any respect he was inferior to Mühlenberg, it was not in respect to diligent devotion to the business on which he had been sent. It is much to the credit of both of them that, in organizing and promoting their two sharply competing sects, they never failed of fraternal personal relations. They worked together with one heart to keep their people apart from each other. The Christian instinct, in a community of German Christians, to gather in one congregation for common worship was solemnly discouraged by the two apostles and the synods which they organized. How could the two parties walk together when one prayed Vater unser, and the other unser Vater? But the beauty of Christian unity was illustrated in such incidents as this: Mr. Schlatter and some of the Reformed Christians, being present at a Lutheran church on a communion Sunday, 196listened to the preaching of the Lutheran pastor, after which the Reformed minister made a communion address, and then the congregation was dismissed, and the Reformed went off to a school-house to receive the Lord’s Supper.124124 Jacobs, “The Lutherans,” p. 289. Truly it was fragrant like the ointment on the beard of Aaron!
Such was the diligence of Schlatter that the synod or coetus of the Reformed Church was instituted in 1747, a year from his arrival. The Lutheran synod dates from 1748, although Mühlenberg was on the ground four years earlier than Schlatter. Thus the great work of dividing the German population of America into two major sects was conscientiously and effectually performed. Seventy years later, with large expenditure of persuasion, authority, and money, it was found possible to heal in some measure in the old country the very schism which good men had been at such pains to perpetuate in the new.
High honor is due to the prophetic wisdom of these two leaders of German-American Christianity, in that they clearly recognized in advance that the English was destined to be the dominant language of North America. Their strenuous though unsuccessful effort to promote a system of public schools in Pennsylvania was defeated through their own ill judgment and the ignorant prejudices of the immigrant people played upon by politicians. But the mere attempt entitles them to lasting gratitude. It is not unlikely that their divisive work of church organization may have contributed indirectly to defeat the aspirations of their fellow-Germans after the perpetuation of a Germany in America. The combination of the mass of the German population in one solid church organization would have been a formidable support to such aspirations. The splitting of this mass in half, necessitating petty local 197schisms with all their debilitating and demoralizing consequences, may have helped secure the country from a serious political and social danger.
So, then, the German church in America at the close of the colonial era exists, outside of the petty primeval sects, in three main divisions: the Lutheran, the Reformed, and the Moravian. There is free opportunity for Christians of this language to sort themselves according to their elective affinities. That American ideal of edifying harmony is well attained, according to which men of partial or one-sided views of truth shall be associated exclusively in church relations with others of like precious defects. Mühlenberg seems to have been sensible of the nature of the division he was making in the body of Christ, when, after severing successfully between the strict Lutherans in a certain congregation and those of Moravian sympathies, he finds it “hard to decide on which side of the controversy the greater justice lay. The greater part of those on the Lutheran side, he feared, was composed of unconverted men,” while the Moravian party seemed open to the reproach of enthusiasm. So he concluded that each sort of Christians would be better off without the other. Time proved his diagnosis to be better than his treatment. In the course of a generation the Lutheran body, carefully weeded of pietistic admixtures, sank perilously deep in cold rationalism, and the Moravian church was quite carried away for a time on a flood of sentimentalism. What might have been the course of this part of church history if Mühlenberg and Schlatter had shared more deeply with Zinzendorf in the spirit of apostolic and catholic Christianity, and if all three had conspired to draw together into one the various temperaments and tendencies of the German Americans in the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace, may seem like an idle historical conjecture, but the 198question is not without practical interest to-day. Perhaps the Moravians would have been the better for being ballasted with the weighty theologies and the conservative temper of the state churches; it is very certain that these would have gained by the infusion of something of that warmth of Christian love and zeal that pervaded to a wonderful degree the whole Moravian fellowship. But the hand and the foot were quite agreed that they had no need of each other or of the heart.125125 Jacobs, pp. 227, 309, sqq.; Hamilton, p. 457. No account of the German-American churches is adequate which does not go back to the work of Spener, the influence of which was felt through them all. The author is compelled to content himself with inadequate work on many topics.
By far the most momentous event of American church history in the closing period of the colonial era was the planting of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Wesleyan revival was strangely tardy in reaching this country, with which it had so many points of connection. It was in America, in 1737, that John Wesley passed through the discipline of a humiliating experience, by which his mind had been opened, and that he had been brought into acquaintance with the Moravians, by whom he was to be taught the way of the Lord more perfectly. It was John Wesley who sent Whitefield to America, from whom, on his first return to England, in 1738, he learned the practice of field-preaching. It was from America that Edwards’s “Narrative of Surprising Conversions” had come to Wesley, which, being read by him on the walk from London to Oxford, opened to his mind unknown possibilities of the swift advancement of the kingdom of God. The beginning of the Wesleyan societies in England followed in close connection upon the first Awakening in America. It went on with growing momentum in England and Ireland for quarter of a century, until, in 1765, it numbered 199thirty-nine circuits served by ninety-two itinerant preachers; and its work was mainly among the classes from which the emigration to the colonies was drawn. It is not easy to explain how it came to pass that through all these twenty-five years Wesleyan Methodism gave no sound or sign of life on that continent on which it was destined (if one may speak of predestination in this connection) to grow to its most. magnificent proportions.
At last, in 1766, in a little group of Methodist families that had found one another out among the recent corners in New York, Philip Embury, who in his native Ireland long before had been a recognized local preacher, was induced by the persuasions and reproaches of a pious woman to take his not inconsiderable talent from the napkin in which he had kept it hidden for six years, and preach in his own house to as many as could be brought in to listen to him. The few that were there formed themselves into a “class” and promised to attend at future meetings.
A more untoward time for the setting on foot of a religious enterprise could hardly have been chosen. It was a time of prevailing languor in the churches, in the reaction from the Great Awakening; it was also a time of intense political agitation. The year before the Stamp Act had been passed, and the whole chain of colonies, from New Hampshire to Georgia, had been stirred up to resist the execution of it. This year the Stamp Act had been repealed, but in such terms as to imply a new menace and redouble the agitation. From this time forward to the outbreak of war in 1775, and from that year on till the conclusion of peace in 1783, the land was never at rest from turmoil. Through it all the Methodist societies grew and multiplied. In 1767 Embury’s house had overflowed, and a sail-loft was hired for the growing congregation. 200In 1768 a lot on John Street was secured and a meetinghouse was built. The work had spread to Philadelphia, and, self-planted in Maryland under the preaching of Robert Strawbridge, was propagating itself rapidly in that peculiarly congenial soil. In 1769, in response to earnest entreaties from America, two of Wesley’s itinerant preachers, Boardman and Pilmoor, arrived with his commission to organize an American itinerancy; and two years later, in 1771, arrived Francis Asbury, who, by virtue of his preeminent qualifications for organization, administration, and command, soon became practically the director of the American work, a function to which, in 1772, he was officially appointed by commission from Wesley.
Very great is the debt that American Christianity owes to Francis Asbury. It may reasonably be doubted whether any one man, from the founding of the church in America until now, has achieved so much in the visible and traceable results of his work. It is very certain that Wesley himself, with his despotic temper and his High-church and Tory principles, could not have carried the Methodist movement in the New World onward through the perils of its infancy on the way to so eminent a success as that which was prepared by his vicegerent. Fully possessed of the principles of that autocratic discipline ordained by Wesley, he knew how to use it as not abusing it, being aware that such a discipline can continue to subsist, in the long run, only by studying the temper of the subjects of it, and making sure of obedience to orders by making sure that the orders are agreeable, on the whole, to the subjects. More than one polity theoretically aristocratic or monarchic in the atmosphere of our republic has grown into a practically popular government, simply through tact and good judgment in the administration of it, without changing a syllable of its constitution. Very early in the history of 201the Methodist Church it is easy to recognize the aptitude with which Asbury naturalizes himself in the new climate. Nominally he holds an absolute autocracy over the young organization. Whatever the subject at issue, “on hearing every preacher for and against, the right of determination was to rest with him.”126126 Dr. J. M. Buckley, “The Methodists,” p. 181. Questions of the utmost difficulty and of vital importance arose in the first years of the American itinerancy. They could not have been decided so wisely for the country and the universal church if Asbury, seeming to govern the ministry and membership of the Society, had not studied to be governed by them. In spite of the sturdy dictum of Wesley, “We are not republicans, and do not intend to be,” the salutary and necessary change had already begun which was to accommodate his institutes in practice, and eventually in form, to the habits and requirements of a free people.
The center of gravity of the Methodist Society, beginning at New York, moved rapidly southward. Boston had been the metropolis of the Congregationalist churches; New York, of the Episcopalians; Philadelphia, of the Quakers and the Presbyterians; and Baltimore, latest and southernmost of the large colonial cities, became, for a time, the headquarters of Methodism. Accessions to the Society in that region were more in number and stronger in wealth and social influence than in more northern communities. It was at Baltimore that Asbury fixed his residence—so far as a Methodist bishop, ranging the country with incessant and untiring diligence, could be said to have a fixed residence.
The record of the successive annual conferences of the Methodists gives a gauge of their increase. At the first, in 1773, at Philadelphia, there were reported 1160 members and 10 preachers, not one of these a native of America.202
At the second annual conference, in Philadelphia, there were reported 2073 members and 17 preachers.
The third annual conference sat at Philadelphia in 1775, simultaneously with the Continental Congress. It was the beginning of the war. There were reported 3148 members. Some of the foremost preachers had gone back to England, unable to carry on their work without being compelled to compromise their royalist principles. The preachers reporting were 19. Of the membership nearly 2500 were south of Philadelphia—about eighty per cent.
At the fourth annual conference, at Baltimore, in 1776, were reported 4921 members and 24 preachers.
At the fifth annual conference, in Harford County, Maryland, were reported 6968 members and 36 preachers. This was in the thick of the war. More of the leading preachers, sympathizing with the royal cause, were going home to England. The Methodists as a body were subject to not unreasonable suspicion of being disaffected to the cause of independence. Their preachers were principally Englishmen with British sympathies. The whole order was dominated and its property controlled by an offensively outspoken Tory of the Dr. Johnson type.127127 The attitude of Wesley toward the American cause is set forth with judicial fairness by Dr. Buckley, pp. 158-168. It was natural enough that in their public work they should be liable to annoyance, mob violence, and military arrest. Even Asbury, a man of proved American sympathies, found it necessary to retire for a time from public activity.
In these circumstances, it is no wonder that at the conference of 1778, at Leesburg, Va., at which five circuits in the most disturbed regions were unrepresented, there was a decline in numbers. The members were fewer by 873; the preachers fewer by 7.
But it is really wonderful that the next year (1779) 203were reported extensive revivals in all parts not directly affected by the war, and an increase of 2482 members and 49 preachers. The distribution of the membership was very remarkable. At this time, and for many years after, there was no organized Methodism in New England. New York, being occupied by the invading army, sent no report. Of the total reported membership of 8577, 140 are credited to New Jersey, 179 to Pennsylvania, 795 to Delaware, and 900 to Maryland. Nearly all the remainder, about eighty per cent. of the whole, was included in Virginia and North Carolina. With the exception of 319 persons, the entire reported membership of the Methodist societies lived south of Mason and Dixon’s line. The fact throws an honorable light on some incidents of the early history of this great order of preachers.
In the sixteen years from the meeting in Philip Embury’s house to the end of the War of Independence the membership of the Methodist societies grew to about 12,000, served by about 70 itinerant preachers. It was a very vital and active membership, including a large number of “local preachers” and exhorters. The societies and classes were effectively organized and officered for aggressive work; and they were planted, for the most part, in the regions most destitute of Christian institutions.
Parallel with the course of the gospel, we trace in every period the course of those antichristian influences with which the gospel is in conflict. The system of slavery must continue, through many sorrowful years, to be in view from the line of our studies. We shall know it by the unceasing protest made against it in the name of the Lord. The arguments of John Woolman and Anthony Benezet were sustained by the yearly meetings of the Friends. At Newport, the chief center of the African slave-trade, the 204two Congregational pastors, Samuel Hopkins, the theologian, and the erudite Ezra Stiles, afterward president of Yale College, mutually opposed in theology and contrasted at every point of natural character, were at one in boldly opposing the business by which their parishioners had been enriched.128128 A full account of Hopkins’s long-sustained activity against both slavery and the slave-trade is given in Park’s “Memoir of Hopkins,” pp. 214157. His sermons on the subject began in 1770. His monumental “Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans, with an Address to Slave-holders,” was published in 1776. For additional information as to the antislavery attitude of the church at this period, and especially that of Stiles, see review of “The Minister’s Wooing,” by L. Bacon (“New Englander,” vol. xviii., p. 145). The deepening of the conflict for political liberty pointed the application of the golden rule in the case of the slaves. The antislavery literature of the period includes a printed sermon that had been preached by the distinguished Dr. Levi Hart “to the corporation of freemen” of his native town of Farmington, Conn., at their autumnal town-meeting in 1774; and the poem on “Slavery,” published in 1775 by that fine character, Aaron Cleveland,129129 I have not been able to find a copy of this poem, the character of which, however, is well known. The son of Aaron Cleveland, William, was a silversmith at Norwich, among whose grandsons may be named President Grover Cleveland, and Aaron Cleveland Cox, later known as Bishop Arthur Cleveland Coxe. of Norwich, hatter, poet, legislator, and minister of the gospel. Among the Presbyterians of New Jersey, the father of Dr. Ashbel Green took the extreme ground which was taken by Dr. Hopkins’s church in 1784, that no person holding a slave should be permitted to remain in the communion of the church.130130 Dr. A. Green’s Life of his father, in “Monthly Christian Advocate.” In 1774 the first society in the world for the abolition of slavery was organized among the Friends in Pennsylvania, to be followed by others, making a continuous series of abolition societies from New England to Maryland and Virginia. But the great antislavery society of the period in question was 205the Methodist Society. Laboring through the War of Independence mainly in the Southern States, it publicly declared, in the conference of 1780, “that slavery is contrary to the laws of God, man, and nature, and hurtful to society; contrary to the dictates of conscience and pure religion, and doing that which we would not that others should do to us and ours.” The discipline of the body of itinerants was conducted rigorously in accordance with this declaration.
It must not be supposed that the instances here cited represent exceptions to the general course of opinion in the church of those times. They are simply expressions of the universal judgment of those whose attention had been seriously fixed upon the subject. There appears no evidence of the existence of a contrary sentiment. The first beginnings of a party in the church in opposition to the common judgment of the Christian conscience on the subject of slavery are to be referred to a comparatively very recent date.
Another of the great conflicts of the modern church was impending. But it was only to prophetic minds in the middle of the eighteenth century that it was visible in the greatness of its proportions. The vice of drunkenness, which Isaiah had denounced in Samaria and Paul had denounced at Ephesus, was growing insensibly, since the introduction of distilled liquors as a common beverage, to a fatal prevalence. The trustees of the charitable colony of Georgia, consciously laying the foundations of many generations, endeavored to provide for the welfare of the nascent State by forbidding at once the importation of negro slaves and of spirituous liquors; but the salutary interdict was soon nullified in the interest of the crops and of the trade with the Indians. Dr. Hopkins “inculcated, at a very early day, the duty of entire abstinence from 206intoxicating liquids as a beverage.”131131 Park, “Memoir of Hopkins,” p. 112. But, as in the conflict with slavery, so in this conflict, the priority of leadership belongs easily to Wesley and his itinerants. The conference of 1783 declared against permitting the converts “to make spirituous liquors, sell and drink them in drams,” as “wrong in its nature and consequences.” To this course they were committed long in advance by the “General Rules” set forth by the two Wesleys in May, 1743, for the guidance of the “United Societies.”132132 Buckley, “The Methodists,” Appendix, pp. 688, 689.
An incident of the times immediately preceding the War of Independence requires to be noted in this place, not as being of great importance in itself, but as characteristic of the condition of the country and prophetic of changes that were about to take place. During the decade from 1760 to 1775 the national body of the Presbyterians—the now reunited synod of New York and Philadelphia—and the General Association of the Congregational pastors of Connecticut met together by their representatives in annual convention to take counsel over a grave peril that seemed to be impending. A petition had been urgently pressed, in behalf of the American Episcopalians, for the establishment of bishops in the colonies under the authority of the Church of England. The reasons for this measure were obvious and weighty; and the protestations of those who promoted it, that they sought no advantage before the law over their fellow-Christians, were doubtless sincere. Nevertheless, the fear that the bringing in of Church of England bishops would involve the bringing in of many of those mischiefs of the English church establishment which neither they nor their fathers had been able to bear was a perfectly reasonable fear both to the Puritans of New England and to the Presbyterians from Ireland. It 207was difficult for these, and it would have been even more difficult for the new dignitaries, in colonial days, to understand how bishops could be anything but lord bishops. The fear of such results was not confined to ecclesiastics. The movement was felt by the colonial statesmen to be dangerously akin to other British encroachments on colonial rights. The Massachusetts Assembly instructed its agent in London strenuously to oppose it. In Virginia, the Episcopalian clergy themselves at first refused to concur in the petition for bishops; and when at last the concurrence was voted, it was in the face of a formal protest of four of the clergy, for which they received a vote of thanks from the House of Burgesses.133133 See Tiffany, “Protestant Episcopal Church,” pp. 267-278, where the subject is treated fully and with characteristic fairness.
The alliance thus occasioned between the national synod of the Presbyterian Church and the Congregationalist clergy of the little colony of Connecticut seems like a disproportioned one. And so it was indeed; for the Connecticut General Association was by far the larger and stronger body of the two. By and by the disproportion was inverted, and the alliance continued, with notable results.208
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