Francis Asbury the Methodist on Horseback

This is the day that … Francis Asbury was born in 1745 – the “first apostle of American Methodism”.

Born in England, he worked as a blacksmith for a time and was converted in a barn. “The preacher,” he wrote later, “had no prayer book, yet he prayed wonderfully. What was more extraordinary, the man took his text and had no sermon book…” He was about 14 at the time he came to know Christ as his Saviour.

Before long he had thrown in his lot with the Methodists, was appointed a full-time Methodist preacher by the time he was 21. When John Wesley called for men willing to go to America in 1771, Asbury volunteered to go. When he arrived in Philadelphia (27 October, 1771), there were only 600 American Methodists. When he died 45 years later there were 214,235.

Asbury was not a great speaker, nor a successful pastor. He was plagued by ill health, suffering from colds, coughs, fevers, severe headaches, ulcers, and eventually chronic rheumatism, which forced him off his horse and into a carriage. Yet he continued to preach with passion.

According to biographer Ezra Tipple, Asbury’s preaching was more zeal than art, and highly effective. Tipple wrote there were occasions when “under the rush of his utterance, people sprang to their feet as if summoned to the judgment bar of God.”

He was dominated by the desire to see Scriptural holiness spread across America, and “he forced himself to remain in the saddle, even when covered with blisters, by clinging to his faith and through swallowing large amounts of liquid in which 100 horseshoe nails had been boiled…” (Francis Asbury, by C. Leeding).

During his 44 years of American evangelism Asbury preached some 16,500 sermons, travelled 270,000 miles (mainly on horse-back), crossed the Allegheny Mountains more than 60 times, and saw more of the American countryside than any other parson of his generation. He was so well-known in America that letters addressed to “Bishop Asbury, United States of America” were delivered to him.

Being a good organizer, her set up districts and sent out circuit riding preachers to the many small communities. His advice to his helpers: “Go into every kitchen and shop; address all, aged and young, on the salvation of their souls…” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 42).

Francis Asbury went to hear the “Well done!” on 31 March, 1816.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

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