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Close Of The Colonial Era The Ge





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
place for tracing the intricate history of their discussions,[182:1]
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 in 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 the 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.[184:1] The astonishingly sudden and complete
extinction of 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.

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.

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 it 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.[188:1] 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 coreligionists 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.[188:2]
The 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 twenty 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 coöperation 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.[190:1] 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 thousand 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 coöperation 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.[191:1]

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 Germany 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 Mühlenberg, 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.

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 Indian missions 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.[194:1]

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 and 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, listened 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.[196:1] 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 schisms
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 question 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.[198:1]

* * * * *

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 thirty-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 comers 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. In
1768 a lot on John Street was secured and a meeting-house 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
preëminent 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 the 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.[201:1]
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.

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.[202:1] 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) were 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 two 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.[204:1] 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,[204:2] 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.[204:3] 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 the
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 intoxicating liquids as a beverage.[206:1] 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.[206:2]

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 was 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.[207:1]

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.





Next: Reconstruction

Previous: The Great Awakening



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