She reads to me about his life, this man named Francis Asbury.
Do you know of him? I do. I’d better. Why?
Well, I’m the daughter of a Methodist preacher. I’m married to one as well.
I grew up in Wilmore, KY, home to Asbury College and Asbury Seminary. I graduated from the former and ran the halls of the latter during my growing up years, cutting a path between my professor, daddy’s office and my registrar, momma’s office. In a later season, I’d have an office of my own in that hallowed institution. Francis Asbury was, in part, one of the reasons behind my being raised where I was raised … being reared how I was reared.
I am a Methodist. I don’t make much of it here at the blog, because I’m a Christian before I’m a Methodist, but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess those denominational lines run pretty deep within me. So when my daughter was assigned another book report (she’s a fan of Christian biographies recently reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, and William Booth), I hand selected this one for her. Perhaps it is time she knows something of her spiritual roots.
Francis Asbury was one of the first circuit riding preachers in America. Sent here by John Wesley in 1771, Francis (a.k.a. Frank) spent the next forty-five years riding the circuit amongst the burgeoning Methodist societies and preaching the kingdom of God. He averaged 6,000 miles a year on horseback (a lifetime total of over 270,000 miles) and delivered over 15,500 sermons. His first night in America he chronicled his thoughts in his journal:
“ … When I came near the American shore, my very heart melted within me to think from whence I came, where I was going, and what I was going about. But I felt my mind open to the people and my tongue loosed to speak. I feel that God is here and find plenty of all we need.” (Benge, Francis Asbury: Circuit Rider, 2013, p. 53)
From whence he came was England into an America convinced of their need to cut ties with their mother-country. Francis tried to delicately step his way through the growing controversy between the colonies and England, governing his thoughts, words, and deeds by his desire to spread the Gospel and grow the church. However, because of their ties to the Church of England, circuit-riding preachers were often met with suspicion by colonists who tagged them as Loyalists. Many circuit riders abandoned their posts – some into hiding, some sailing back to England. By late 1777, Francis and another preacher named George Shadford were the last two, English-born Methodist circuit riders in America. Again, from Francis’s journal:
“Three thousand miles from home—my friends have left me—I am considered by some as an enemy of the country—every day liable to be seized by violence, and abused. This is just a trifle to suffer for Christ, and the salvation of souls. Lord, stand by me!” (ibid, p. 98)
The Lord did stand by Francis. He must have. I am (in small measure) living proof. And although my daughter and I have yet to finish this biography, I know how it ends … at least for now. God’s Word is alive in my heart and, just this morning, I meditated on that Word while listening to the words of my preacher-husband standing behind his Methodist pulpit. My mother did the same, listening to my daddy who stood behind his own pulpit. My in-laws the same. My sons? Well, they were in the pews of their own Methodist congregation. This is who we are. Christians first. Methodists second, and by the grace of God, saved to the uttermost.
I don’t know if Francis Asbury understands the influence he’s had on the spiritual landscape of America, but if he could look down from his heavenly post today and catch a glimpse of what his forty-five years and 270,000 miles’ worth of riding has birthed, he would know that his faith—his witness and his willingness—was no trifling matter. His faith was an eternal matter, one that continues to reap kingdom dividends some 250 years after he first glimpsed the American shore.
May it be so for each one of us. May our faith—the witness and willingness of our hearts—be no trifling matter. May it, instead, last eternally as we travel our circuits and spread the love and life of Jesus wherever we go.
Ride on, Christians, and leave a holy trail of Jesus behind you as you go. Someday we’ll all look back on these lives that we’ve lived and be amazed by how our paths of grace have changed the landscape of humanity. What a privilege to share this traveling ministry with you. As always…
Peace for the journey,
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