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he first ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey, to act as presbyters of the societies, and afterward ordained Dr. Coke as superintendent, giving him letters of ordination under his own hand and seal, of which the following is a faithful copy:
"To all to whom these presents shall come, John Wesley, late Fellow of Lincoln College, in Oxford, presbyter of the Church of England, sendeth greeting:
"Whereas many of the people in the southern provinces of North America, who desire to be under my care, and still adhere to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, are greatly distressed for want of ministers to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper, according to the usage of said church : and whereas there does not appear any other way of supplying them with ministers:
"Know all men, that I, John Wesley, think myself to be providentially called at this time to set apart some persons for the work of the ministry in America. Therefore, under the protection of Almighty God, and with an eye single to his glory, I have this day set apart as a superintendent, by the imposition of my hands, (being assisted by other ordained ministers,) Thomas Coke, Doctor of Civil Law, a presbyter of the Church of England, and a man whom I judge to be well qualified for that great work. And I do hereby recommend him to all whom it may concern, as a fit person to preside over the flock of Christ. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal, this second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-four.
Before the doctor sailed from Bristol, at which place this ordination was performed, Mr. Wesley wrote the following letter to the societies in America, in which he explains his motives and designs in this proceeding, and which Dr. Coke was directed to print and circulate upon his arrival in America.
"To Dr. Coke, Mr. Asbury, and our Brethren in North America.
"Bristol, September 10, 1784.
"By a very uncommon train of providences many of the provinces of North America are totally disjoined from the mother country, and erected into independent states. The English government has no authority over them, either civil or ecclesiastical, any more than over the states of Holland. A civil authority is exercised over them, partly by the congress, partly by the provincial assemblies. But no one either claims or exercises any ecclesiastical authority at all. In this peculiar situation some thousands of the inhabitants of these states desire my advice, and in compliance with their desire I have drawn up a little sketch.
"Lord King's account of the primitive church convinced me many years ago that bishops and presbyters are the same order, and consequently have the same right to ordain. For many years I have been importuned, from time to time, to exercise this right by ordaining a part of our traveling preachers. But I have still refused, not only for peace sake, but because I was determined as little as pos
sible to violate the order of the Established Church to which I belonged.
"But the case is widely different between England and North America. Here there are bishops who have a legal jurisdiction. In America there are none, neither any parish minister. So that for some hundreds of miles together there is none either to baptize, or to administer the Lord's supper. Here, therefore, my scruples are at an end; and I conceive myself at full liberty, as I violate no order, and invade no man's right, by appointing and sending laborers into the harvest.
"I have accordingly appointed Dr. Coke and Mr. Francis Asbury to be joint superintendents over our brethren in North America; as also Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey to act as elders among them by baptizing and administering the Lord's supper. And I have prepared a liturgy, little differing from that of the Established Church of England, (I think the best-constituted national church in the world,) which I advise all the traveling preachers to use on the Lord's day, in all the congregations, reading the litany only on Wednesdays and Fridays, and praying extempore on all other days. I also advise the elders to administer the supper of the Lord on every Lord's day.
"If any one will point out a more rational and Scriptural way of feeding and guiding these poor sheep in the wilderness, I will gladly embrace it. At present I cannot see any better method than that I have taken.
"It has indeed been proposed to desire the English bishops to ordain part of our preachers for America. But to this I object, 1. I desired the bishop of London to ordain one, but could not prevail. 2. If they consented, we know the slowness of their proceedings; but the matter admits of no delay. 3. If they would ordain them now, they would expect to govern them. And how grievously would this entangle us! 4. As our American brethren are now totally disentangled, both from the state and English hierarchy, we dare not entangle them again, either with the one or the other. They are now at full liberty simply to follow the Scriptures and the primitive church. And we judge it best that they should stand fast in the liberty wherewith God hath so strangely made them free.
Dr. Coke sailed with his companions from Bristol on the 18th of September, and landed in New-York the 3d of November. They immediately set out for the south, and "on the 14th of the same month," says the Rev. E. Cooper, "they met Mr. Asbury and about fifteen of the American preachers, at a quarterly meeting held in Barrett's Chapel, Kent county, Del. I was then a witness with my eyes, my ears, and my heart, of one of the most solemn, interesting, and affectionate meetings. It was in full view of a large concourse of people, a crowded congregation, assembled for public worship. While Dr. Coke was preaching, Mr. Asbury came into the congregation. A solemn pause and a deep silence ensued at the close of the sermon, as an interval for introduction and salutation. Asbury and Coke, with great solemnity and much dignified sensi
* Mr. Asbury says the 15th.
bility, and with hearts filled with brotherly love, approached, embraced, and saluted each other. The other preachers, at the same time, participating in the tender sensibilities of these affectionate salutations, were melted into sweet sympathy and tears. The congregation also caught the glowing emotion, and the whole assembly, as if struck with a shock of heavenly electricity, burst into a flood of tears. Every heart appeared as if filled and overflowing with love, unity, and fellowship, and an ecstacy of joy and gladness ensued. Í can never forget the affecting scene.
Mr. Asbury thus notices this interesting and affectionate interview, which produced that powerful effect upon the audience described by Mr. Cooper :
Sunday 15.-I came to Barrett's Chapel. Here, to my great joy, I met those dear men of God, Dr. Coke and Richard Whatcoat. We were greatly comforted together. The doctor preached on, Christ our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.' Having had no opportunity of conversing with them before public worship, I was greatly surprised to see brother Whatcoat assist by taking the cup in the administration of the sacrament. I was shocked when first informed of the intention of these brethren in coming to this country. It may be of God. My answer then was, if the preachers unanimously choose me, I shall not act in the capacity I have hitherto done by Mr. Wesley's appointment. The design of organizing the Methodists into an independent episcopal church was opened to the preachers present, and it was agreed to call a general conference, to meet at Baltimore the ensuing Christmas; and also that brother Garrettson go off to Virginia to give notice thereof to our brethren in the south."‡
This conference met in Baltimore on Christmas eve, and has been denominated the Christmas conference. It was here agreed to form the societies into an episcopal church, with superintendents, elders, and deacons, according to the form sent them by Mr. Wesley in the Prayerbook. Dr. Coke was unanimously accepted in the character of superintendent from Mr. Wesley, and Mr. Asbury was unanimously elected to the same office, and his ordination followed, of which the following is the certificate:
"Know all men by these presents, that I, Thomas Coke, Doctor of Civil Law, late of Jesus College, in the University of Oxford, presbyter of the Church of England, and superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America; under the protection of almighty God, and with a single eye to his glory; by the imposition of my hands and prayer, (being assisted by two ordained elders,) did on the 25th day of this month, December, set apart Francis Asbury to the office of a deacon in the aforesaid Methodist Episcopal Church. And also on the 26th day of the same month, did by the imposition of my hands and prayer, (being assisted by the said elders,) set apart the said Francis Asbury to the office of an elder in the said Methodist Episcopal Church. And on this 27th day of
* Cooper on Asbury, pp. 104-5.
We are not to suppose that Mr. Asbury was "shocked" that these brethren had come to organize the societies in America, for that he had himself requested of Mr. Wesley; but that he was to be one of the superintendents of the newly organized church. This is evident from what follows.
+ Journals, vol. i, p. 376.
the said month, being the day of the date hereof, have by the imposition of my hands and prayer, (being assisted by the said elders,) set apart the said Francis Asbury to the office of a superintendent in the said Methodist Episcopal Church, a man whom I judge well qualified for that great work. And I do hereby recommend him to all whom it may concern, as a fit person to preside over the flock of Christ. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal, this 27th day of December, in the year of our Lord 1784. "THOMAS COKE." 99*
Besides the superintendents, twelve elders were elected and ordained for the societies in the United States, two for Nova Scotia, and one for Antigua, in the West Indies. "The conference," says Bishop Asbury, "occupied a week in its session, debating freely and determining all questions by a majority of votes; they were in great haste, and did much business in a little time. Dr. Coke preached every day at noon, and the other preachers in the morning and evening."
Says one who was a member of this conference, "I doubt if ever there has been a conference held by us at which there was an equal number, in proportion to the whole, so dead to the world, and indeed so gifted and enterprising, as were the preachers of 1784. They had much to suffer in that early period of our history, and especially through our revolutionary struggles.
"Among these pioneers, Asbury stood chief, by mutual consent. There was something in his person, his eye, his mien, and in the music of his voice, that interested all who saw and heard him. He was naturally witty and satirical; but grace and good sense predominated: so that he never let himself down beneath the dignity of a man, and a man of God.
"Nearly fifty years have now elapsed since the Christmas conference, and I have a thousand times looked back to that memorable era with pleasurable emotions; I have often said it was the most solemn convocation I ever saw: I might have said sublime, for during the whole time of our being together in the transaction of business of the utmost magnitude there was not, I verily believe, on the conference floor, or in private, an unkind word spoken, or an unbrotherly emotion felt. Christian love predominated, and under its influence we kindly thought and sweetly spoke the same."
Many persons have very severely blamed, and even abusively reproached, Mr. Wesley for this measure; that he, a mere presbyter, should presume to ordain a bishop! But let it be remembered, that however inconsistently he acted with the views of others, yet with his own views, and with the views of the earlier reformer of the Anglican Church, and with those of all the reformers of the continent, as also those of antiquity and Scripture, he was perfectly consistent. For more than thirty-seven years previous to this, even long before there was a society in America to organize, he was convinced of the identity of priests and bishops as to order, and that consequently they have the same right to ordain, by that unanswerable production, Lord King's Account of the Primitive Church. He was, moreover, the anоorоhos of the Methodist societies, and by virtue of that relation, and by the common consent of the preachers
Asbury's Journals, vol. i, p. 378.
✦ Rev. Thomas Ware, Methodist Magazine, vol. ii, p. 102; vol. iii, p. 97. VOL. IX.-July, 1838.
and people, was also, de facto, their εTIGKоTоç, and who, therefore, in the name of Scripture and of common sense, should preside over them, and provide for their wants, but himself?
The argument by which the Methodists usually defend the validity of their episcopacy is thus very briefly and clearly stated by the Rev. P. P. Sandford: "It has been objected by persons holding high-church principles, that the Methodist episcopacy is invalid, because Mr. Wesley, from whom it emanated, was only a presbyter. To this it may be replied, that some of the leading men among the English reformers, especially Archbishop Cranmer, was of Mr. Wesley's opinion, that bishops and presbyters were originally of the same order. If so, the Methodist episcopacy is valid. Others, who were men of high-church principles, acknowledged that episcopal ordination, though, in their opinion, of divine right, is not absolutely necessary to a valid Christian ministry. And others, again, who would not admit the correctness of the opinion last stated, did nevertheless acknowledge that, in a case of necessity, episcopal ordination might be dispensed with. Now the validity of Methodist episcopacy may be maintained on any or all of these grounds. Mr. Wesley professedly acted on the first; and on that ground there can be no question of his right to ordain. According to the second opinion of some of the English reformers, the validity of Methodist ordination cannot be disputed. But if neither of these could be sustained, the third opinion, which appears to have been admitted by some of the most rigid Episcopalians, will, it is presumed, fully justify the course pursued by Mr. Wesley and the American Methodists. From the facts which have been briefly stated in the preceding part of this discourse, the necessity of the case was such that every candid and unprejudiced mind, it is presumed, will readily acknowledge the propriety of using any lawful means by which the existing evils might be removed. The questions to be resolved were: Shall thousands of Christians live and die without the Christian sacraments, and tens of thousands of the children of Christian parents grow up without Christian baptism? Or shall their stated preachers be authorized to administer these sacraments to them? Now who would hesitate to acknowledge, if necessity can justify a departure from ordination by episcopal succession in any case, that it was justifiable in the case before us? If any should be found who, after considering all the above ground of justification of the course pursued by Mr. Wesley and the American Methodists, still deny that the Methodist episcopacy is valid; and continue to assert that nothing can justify a departure from ordination, by a regular episcopal succession from the apostles; it is presumed that they will find but few among candid and enlightened Christians who will deliberately agree with them; and they are requested to sit down, and make out their regular episcopal succession, before they bring the want of it as an objection against the validity of the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal
The argument from necessity, so frequently urged by the Methodists in favor of their ordination, although not without its force, I think, concedes too much to the Episcopalians, who, I fear, have sometimes been encouraged by it to renew their attacks; for it is an
* Semi-centennial Discourse; Me.h. Mag., vol. vi, pp. 248, 249.