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The Substance of a Sermon, preached at Baltimore, in the State of Maryland, before the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, on the 27th of December, 1784, at the Ordination of the Rev. Francis Asbury to the Office of a Superintendent. Published at the Desire of the Conference.

BY THOMAS COKE, LL. D., Superintendent of the SAID CHURCH.

"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write, These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth. I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown," Rev. iii, 7-11.

VOL. XI.-July, 1840.

THE most important part of a minister's duty is to insist on the great fundamental truths of Christianity. But he is called occasionally to consider subjects of a more confined and peculiar nature; and the intention of the present meeting more especially requires such an attempt. I shall therefore, with the assistance and blessing of God, In the first place, vindicate our conduct in the present instance. Secondly, open the words of my text.

And thirdly, delineate the character of a Christian bishop. The Church of England, of which the society of Methodists, in general, have till lately professed themselves a part, did for many years groan in America under grievances of the heaviest kind. Subjected to a hierarchy which weighs every thing in the scales of politics, its most important interests were repeatedly sacrificed to the supposed advantages of England. The churches were, in general, filled with the parasites and bottle companions of the rich and the great. The humble and most importunate entreaties of the oppressed flocks, yea, the representations of a general assembly itself were contemned and despised; every thing sacred must lie down at the feet of a party, the

The Assembly of Virginia.


holiness and happiness of mankind be sacrificed to their views; and the drunkard, the fornicator, and the extortioner, triumphed over bleeding Zion, because they were faithful abettors of the ruling powers. But these intolerable fetters are now struck off, and the antichristian union which before subsisted between church and state is broken asunder. One happy consequence of which has been the expulsion of most of those hirelings "who ate the fat and clothed themselves with the wool, but strengthened not the diseased, neither healed that which was sick, neither bound up that which was broken, neither brought again that which was driven away, neither sought that which was lost," Ezek. xxxiv, 3, 4.

The parochial churches in general being hereby vacant, our people were deprived of the sacraments through the greatest part of these States, and continue so still. What method can we take at this critical juncture? God has given us sufficient resources in ourselves, and, after mature deliberation, we believe that we are called to draw them forth.

"But what right have you to ordain ?" The same right as most of the reformed churches in Christendom: our ordination, in its lowest view, being equal to any of the Presbyterian, as originating with three presbyters of the Church of England.

"But what right have you to exercise the episcopal office?" To me the most manifest and clear. God has been pleased, by Mr. Wesley, to raise up in America and Europe a numerous society, well known by the name of Methodists. The whole body have invariably esteemed this man as their chief pastor, under Christ. He has constantly appointed all their religious officers from the highest to the lowest, by himself or his delegate. And we are fully persuaded there is no church office which he judges expedient for the welfare of the people intrusted to his charge, but, as essential to his station, he has a power to ordain. After long deliberation he saw it his duty to form his society in America into an independent church; but he loved the most excellent liturgy of the Church of England, he loved its rights and ceremonies, and therefore adopted them in most instances for the present case.

Besides, in addition to this, we have every qualification for an episcopal church which that of Alexandria (a church of no small note in the primitive times) possessed for two hundred years. Our bishops, or superintendents, (as we rather call them,) having been elected or received by the suffrages of the whole body of our ministers through the continent, assembled in general conference.

"But don't you break the succession ?" The uninterrupted succession of bishops is a point that has been long given up by the ablest Protestant defenders of episcopacy. Bishop Hoadley himself, in his celebrated controversy with Dr. Calamy, allows it to be unnecessary. His words are, "To the thirteenth question I answer, that I think not an uninterrupted line of succession of regularly ordained bishops

I am deeply conscious that the observation by no means reaches to the whole body of the clergy of the Church of England. There are many of them whose characters I greatly esteem, and at whose feet I should think it an honor to sit.

necessary." He also grants the authenticity of the anecdote given. us by St. Jerome, which informs us that the church of Alexandria, mentioned above, had no regular succession from the time of St. Mark the evangelist, the first bishop of that church, to the time of Dionysius, a space of two hundred years: but the college of presbyters on the death of a bishop elected another in his stead. We are also informed from the epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians,† written soon after the death of St. Paul-a writer whose works are next in precedence to the canon of Scripture, and probably written by immediate inspiration that the church of Corinth was then governed by a college of presbyters. And from the epistle of St. Polycarp to the church of Philippi, written in the year of our Lord 116, we also find that the Christian Philippians were then governed only by a college of presbyters. So that the primitive Christians were so far from esteeming the regular succession as essential to the constitution of a Christian church, that in some instances episcopacy itself was wholly omitted.

But of all the forms of church government, we think a moderate episcopacy the best. The executive power being lodged in the hands of one, or at least a few, vigor and activity are given to the resolves of the body, and those two essential requisities for any grand undertaking are sweetly united-calmness and wisdom in deliberating; and in the executive department, expedition and force.

"But are you not schismatics by your separation from the Church?" A Christian church is a body of professors who hold the fundamentals of the Christian religion in doctrine and practice. But we are not ignorant-we cannot be ignorant, that the chief part of the clergy and members of the Church of England (so called) do either tacitly or explicitly deny the doctrine of justification by faith, the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins, and the witness of the Spirit of Godpoints which we esteem most fundamental, yea, essentially necessary to constitute a child of God. We are not-we cannot be ignorant, that they justify as innocent many of the criminal pleasures of the world-card playing, dancing, theatrical amusements, &c.-pleasures utterly inconsistent with union and communion with God. And, though we admire their liturgy, and are determined to retain it with a few alterations, we cannot, we will not hold connection with them, till the Holy Spirit of God has made them see and feel the evil of the practices, and the importance of the doctrines mentioned above. And for this schism (if it must have the name) we are cheerfully ready to answer at the bar of God.

"Why then did you not separate before?" It has long been the desire of the majority of the preachers and people. But they submitted to the superior judgment of Mr. Wesley, who, till the revolution, doubted the propriety of the step.

"But did not your preachers constantly exhort the people to attend the service of the Church of England?" In the general they did, from a full persuasion, drawn from experience, that we had no other alternative to preserve our society, but an adherence to the Church of England, which was totally destitute of real discipline, or a formation

• London edition, Oct., 1712, p. 489.

† Clem., Ep. i, sect. xliii, xlvii, liv, lvii, pp. 172, 174, 177, 178. Polycarp, ad Philip. Salutat., sect. v, vi, xi, pp. 186, 188, 189.

of ourselves into an independent church; and some of them, perhaps, did this with a degree of imprudence which I cannot defend. But I proceed to open my text.

"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write." It is evident to every discerning reader that the words bishop, elder, overseer, &c., are synonymous terms throughout the writings of St. Paul. Nor do I recollect a single instance in the New Testament where any peculiar title is given to the superior officers of the church, (such as were Timothy and Titus,) except in the epistles of our Lord to the seven churches of Asia, where they are distinguished by the name of angel -the prime messengers of Christ to his churches. St. John wrote the Revelation in the isle of Patmos, near the close of his life, when the gospel had gained considerable ground in the world, and many numerous societies of Christians had been formed. Among the principal of these were the seven churches of Asia, which were evidently (what we now call) episcopal churches. For it will hardly admit of a doubt, but these capital societies had in each of them a college of presbyters. And had these been all on an equality, our Lord would never have directed these epistles respectively to a single angel. And all of them being thus addressed, we have reasonable ground to presume that the churches in general, even before the death of St. John, were of the episcopal order. And of how great importance must the office of these angels have been, when the Lord addressed himself only to them, as if the welfare of their respective churches entirely depended on them!

"These things, saith he that is holy, he that is true." Who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity with approbation, and delights in sincerity and truth, the everlasting fountain of truth and holiness, who therefore demands the deepest attention.

"He that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." In allusion to the governor of a city, who has the full command of the gates thereof; so has the Lord Jesus, of whom David was a type, over the new Jerusalem, to open it to the faithful, and shut it against all that defile.

"I know thy works." I am acquainted with all thy gracious tempers, thy fervent zeal, thine abundant labors, for the welfare of my church and the glory of my name.


Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." I have indulged thy fervent spirit, have enlarged thy circle of action, and will so clothe thee with my strength, that no power upon earth shall be able to restrain thee in thy glorious course.


For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name." Thou hast a little measure of the divine power within thee, and hast been a faithful steward of it. Thou hast confessed my name before this wicked generation, and borne a faithful testimony to the word of my truth.

"Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." Those who despise thee, who pretend to be of the true circumcision, but are the greatest enemies of the real circumcision of the heart, I will bring them to thy feet, and compel them to acknowledge that thou

art my beloved, and that I have honored thee. How high was this excellent man in the esteem of his Lord! And how ought the recollection of this to kindle every spark of holy ambition in the faithful superintendents of his church!

"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." Because thou hast been faithful, and hast endured hardship, and followed me, I will hide thee under the covert of my wings from all the judgments and calamities which I will inflict on mankind, to try them, and sift them, and separate the faithful from the wicked.

"Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." I shall soon appear to bestow on thee thy glorious reward-that peculiar crown which I have reserved for my beloved servant, who, through my grace, has been so faithful a coworker with me in my great plan of general happiness. Therefore hold fast thy love, thy zeal, thine important activity, that no man step into thy place before the work I have given thee to do be finished, and take thy crown-the exceeding weight of glory which I have kept for thee in store.

Having just touched on the general character of this amiable bishop* of the church of Philadelphia, as displayed in my text, which, had it been the will of God, we could wish to have seen at fuller length, I proceed to consider the grand characteristics of a Christian bishop.

1. His humility. This is the preservatrix virtutum, the guard of every other grace. As some one beautifully observes, other graces, without humility, are like a fine powder in the wind without a cover. Let a man be ever so zealous, ever so laborious, yet if he wants humility, he will be only like Penelope with her web in the ancient fable, undoing at one time what he does at another. There is some. thing interwoven with human nature which immediately recoils at the very appearance of pride. But this man is clothed with humility. When no other grace shines forth, still we discern this beautiful veil. We give him credit for every thing. And when, in spite of all his caution, some hidden gem peeps out, it sparkles with redoubled lustre. But, above all, he is a vessel fit for his Master's use. His eye is single, he moves directly on; his only desire is to glorify God and benefit mankind, yea, he lives for no other end. He is "in a strait between two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ," and at the same time a fervent desire to be a blessing to his fellow-creatures. "He is crucified to the world, and the world to him." And his soul, disentangled from every selfish view, and emptied of every selfish desire, is a fit receptacle of all the divine gifts which God is willing to bestow. He continually lies at the feet of his Lord, and the language of his heart is, "Not unto me, not unto me, but unto thy name, O Jehovah, be all the praise!"

"Flow back the rivers to the sea,
And let my all be lost in Thee."

I here use the word bishop in its present sense, as signifying an officer of the church superior to the presbyters.

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