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

hich 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


* * * * *

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


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


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.